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Reading and writing are the basic building blocks of education. One cannot perform well in other subjects without first knowing how to do these things. Therefore, it is important to learn, and many students struggle. This paper will discuss how reading and writing have influenced me as a person and how I got started.
I was reading at the age of 2. My mother has Learning Disabilities or LD as well as Typographia and Dyslexia, two reading disabilities. I am an only child and so my mother has always depended on me to read things for her. My mother was my first teacher; she used to teach Early Childhood Education and was a nanny for 10 years. Even with her disabilities, she adapted the lesson plans so that she could teach students what they needed to know.
I come from a family of artists and teachers. I am a visual artist like others in the family and want to become a teacher. My influence in this is my great-aunt Pearl. She is 86 years old and the first woman to teach in the family. Even at her age, she’s still teaching! It is an amazing thing and she has inspired two generations of women after her to become teachers. Another influence is my paternal grandmother. She was a visual artist and loved language and culture. She and my late grandfather would travel all across the contiguous states and take me with them. It was during these trips that I learned about regional languages and cultures, history, geography, geology. My grandmother practically raised me. I was over at their house a lot as a child and remember my grandmother reading to me before bed. I loved that. I learned to spell quite early too as the family loves to play Scrabble and my grandmother was the champion. By the time I got to kindergarten, I was way ahead of everyone else and my mother petitioned my teacher and school principal to get me the spelling words from the next grade level up. The school decided to test me to see if I was Gifted. I passed the test, but was never put into the school’s Gifted and Talented program. We never learned why. As a result, I was always the bored student in class and my teachers struggled to give me more challenging work.
My challenge was finally met in middle school. In 7th grade, we had a college English professor for a teacher. I liked him a lot. He was able to challenge me sufficiently by making me look up words in a dictionary for spelling homework and I had my own separate spelling list from the rest of the class. The words were high school or college level. During spelling tests (and the entire class was given an oral test instead of written), I was asked to use my spelling words in a sentence as well as spell them so he could check my understanding. My peers had never heard the words and so were confused, but he made it a learning experience for everyone. I was once asked why I received different spelling words from everyone else. I couldn’t say why and be mean by saying something like: “I’m smarter than you” so I didn’t say anything. I was arrogant because I had always excelled more than my classmates, especially in language arts.
With writing, my grandmother would read poetry to me as a child. I also learned the language of mathematics as some people in my father’s family, including my father, are classical musicians. I learned to read and write music notes like letters. My mother taught me my English letters, the sounds they made, as well as letter and word recognition. She, like my grandmother, read to me from books or even the newspaper. I learned to write letters in kindergarten, but was bored because I had already learned the material. But, I couldn’t skip a grade. In first and second grade, I was taught pretty much from rote. We practiced writing letters, how to combine letters to form clusters, how to combine those clusters to form words, to string words into sentences, then paragraphs, then stories. My teacher actually started me on basic research papers while I was in second grade. I was to research a topic of my choice in the library and then write about it. I did not, however, enjoy the spelling homework. Spelling tests were on Fridays, but we had spelling homework every night. It was: placing the words in alphabetical order, writing the words 10 times each, etc. I found it tedious and boring. I didn’t want to do it.
I learned to use a dictionary in 3rd grade and how to write a report as well as cursive. Cursive was moderately difficult for me, but got easier with practice. Our teacher gave us worksheets for each letter (26 sheets in all) on which we had to write the specific letter 10-15 times and color a picture of something that was associated with that letter. We were graded on how well we could form the letters. I learned the basics of transitions and essay writing in fourth and fifth grade. In fifth grade, we had to write everything in cursive. At this point, my cursive was almost illegible and I struggled with transitions. Our teacher had a chart of the transitions on the board which transferred to the wall for reference. Our lesson on transitions only lasted a week until we were expected to start using them in our writing. As I’ve become a more experienced writer, I don’t lean on transitions so much and cut them out most of the time, instead making the transition using sentences to a different topic.
Essay writing has always been a struggle for me. I do not like non-fiction nor like being told what to write about. I am a creative writer. I have difficulty in narrowing down a topic as well as starting an introduction. I can have the entire paper written in my head, but only the main points and examples. I have trouble getting started. I can and am willing to edit other people’s essays for them, and do, but cannot for some reason edit my own, perhaps because I am the writer and I know what it is I mean and want to say. In my sophomore year of high school, I learned how to cite sources using footnotes. This was done through essay writing, or reader response papers. Citations were mostly used in our AP (Advanced Placement) American History course. Our teacher has a doctorate in Philosophy, and was very critical of our writing. We were also students in the International Baccalaureate Program (IB). The program accepts gifted students who are willing to undertake college level work and perhaps earn college credit like AP does. The difference between IB and AP is that in IB, students are competing all over the world on the international level between their countries. It is hard, hard work but worth it, at least for me because it has made college that much easier for me because I already knew what to expect when I started 6 years ago at Metro. Essay writing in IB was very difficult as an American student because I never felt it was good enough. I’d put a lot of effort into something, only to receive a C. I barely passed the IB English courses because of this. The criteria for papers were difficult to understand because the program is based out of Cambridge, England and an American student did not know what was being asked for. There is a difference between British and American English. The wording of prompts was tricky and indirect. I was confused a lot and my teachers were semi new to the program, and so were not much help. My English teacher could not explain the assignment sufficiently. My greatest accomplishments in high school were getting my poetry published twice. The first time was when I was a freshman. I was home surfing the web and came across a poetry contest hosted by Poetry.com, a publishing site. I entered because writing poetry has always come naturally to me, perhaps because of my family’s musical background. Poetry and lyrics almost go hand in hand. Also, I can write a superb poem in 15 minutes, read it aloud, and stun my audience. I’d done this a couple times in high school, including stunning teachers. What was the result of the contest? I won and got my poem published in an anthology. Almost two years later, my second surprise came. The surprise was a letter from the well-known publisher Noble House, wanting to publish my poetry. The letter, as I saw, had been directly airmailed from England. I of course sent them a sample of my work and they published it in another anthology. I have never gotten over the shock of having such a prestigious publisher request my work.
As aforementioned, I am a very creative person. This is why I want to work with the younger grades: I want to bring creativity back to the classroom. I am also fascinated by linguistics and language and have taken a few linguistics courses. To teach writing, first you have to read. I would choose books that integrate different cultures, nature, so that my students will understand the world around them. I want them then to use their imaginations and tell oral stories. In this way, I could teach them about stories and how they were done before writing was even invented. I’d also teach the history of writing by showing my students photos of various written languages, both ancient and modern. We could also write letters in the air before paper. Flash cards are another great idea for letter and word recognition. I am almost fully bilingual in English/Spanish and so can recite the alphabet in both languages in addition to months, days, etc. and teach my students the difference between the two letter systems. Word charts are awesome for reference. Another thing to do when learning letters is to write the phonetic symbol for the letter on the board.
Math or numbers is another language that needs to be learned to write. I learned math through music, so perhaps my students can as well. Syllables can be learned through music as can counting. Numbers can be represented using money. Money can also help students learn place values while relating it to the real world. They can also see what different numbers look like on different pieces of currency and the different ways that numbers can be written. Then, they can practice writing the numbers themselves.
Once my students learn to write, I will not stick with just stories, but will go into journaling. Students will have to make something creative like a dream journal. They can also write poetry in their journals.
Spelling can be boring, so I can make a game of it. Instead of a weekly written spelling test, I can give an oral one, or make a game show, with the class divided up into teams and each team member has to come up to the board to see who can spell individual words on the spelling list first. The team member that does scores a point. The team with the most points will earn something like getting to choose things from a prize box, or getting to choose a fun activity such as free computer time, reading during seatwork, etc.
My goal in teaching language arts is for my students to enjoy it. Reading and writing are not punishments and they are not boring. The trick is to get to know your students and choose things that they will want to read or write about.
Students struggle today with reading and writing because it has become tedious and boring. It should be up to the teachers to change things up so that they will have an active, engaged class. If students don’t want to learn, they won’t. I have experienced the same things that students now are experiencing: they don’t like to read and write and groan aloud when an assignment is given to them. Through creativity in the classroom, school overall can be made interesting and fun. We are all imbued with curiosity; it’s just up to us to tap it.