Reflections on class observations

This fall, I spent twelve hours observing an elective creative writing class at Urbana High School.  The course was taught by an English teacher and a student teacher from UIUC.  It was taught in fifth and sixth period and was composed of students ranging from Freshmen to Seniors.  My first observation was on the eighth of November and my last was on the seventh of December.

I followed the class through two projects.  One was to write a poem, record it and add music to it and the other was to write a screenplay that would be entered in the local “Pens to Lens” competition that takes screenplays from grade school students and turns them into actual movies.

The classes mostly followed a standard format.  Upon arrival, the students would be asked to write for five minutes on a given subject and then they’d share their work in a group.  The students seemed to do well at this activity in terms of being engaged and producing writing.  However, I didn’t think it was the best way to start a class.  I understand this matches up with the “Quickies” writing assignment in Inside Out, but I personally dislike it.  It struck me as jarring as I feel students need a moment to orient themselves before being thrust into an activity.  They need a bit of fluency in the mood of the class I think before thrusting themselves directly into writing.  I know I as a student would hate it.  Also five minutes is much too short of a time.  However, I could be totally wrong here as the exercise seemed to be pretty successful each day.

After this exercise, the class went into the main activity of the day.  These all centered around exposing the students to language and format of either poetry or screenplays and I thought it did a good job of coaching fluency.  For poetry, there was a packet full of famous poems and poetic terminology like anaphora, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, etc.  I thought the poems were pretty well chosen and were varied enough that much could be gleaned from each of them.  One of my favorite poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath was included, which I thought was fun.  After the class was exposed to the writing form, they were given a second writing exercise that used what they’d learned.  For example, on the day they learned all the poetic terminology, they were asked to use it in a poem.  Then the class would share their poems in groups at the conclusion of class.  There were also classes based out of the writing lab devoted solely to in-class writing and working on their main project.  During those periods the teachers and I would go around and answer questions from the students.

My personal experiences were a bit slender, but the times I engaged in teaching, I found very rewarding.  The reason they were slender is because students had to volunteer to share their poems with me.  Because of their personal nature, I didn’t have access to them off the bat without the students’ consent.  Everyday when the students engaged in their editing process, I’d announce to the class that I was happy to work on their poem with them and that I was a grad student in creative writing who’d been trained for years to workshop creative writing.  Even with this announcement, sometimes no students asked me for help.  This might partly be due to just low energy on that particular day as some days the students were more involved and excited than others.

However, I did have a handful of really poignant workshop experience in which I feel I really helped the students.  One particularly striking teaching experience happened right before Thanksgiving with a student who had ambitiously decided to do two poems for her final project because she was too passionate about both to not finish them.  I read both of her poems and immediately recognized them as exceptional well beyond the standard range of the class.  They set up a powerful mood through word choice and pacing that only the most successful poems could employ.  After I read the poems, I expressed this to her and pointed out lines that I liked and why I liked them.  The class theme for the day was copyediting, so I framed my discussion around that.  Luckily for poetry, copyediting format is extremely important and can change a whole lot about a poem, because it directly affects its form.  I mentioned her form, which was to use frequent periods to create a sort of abruptness of mood that matched the content.  In mentioning her form, I asked her to focus on maintaining it and pointed out places that she could without changing the intent of her work.  We discussed these moments in the poem and she agreed with all of my suggestions.  Towards the end of the workshop I told her that I’d read a lot of poetry and that she was quite good and should keep it up.  She mentioned that she loved it and hated it to which I asked why.  She responded that she was never happy with her poems and that she could always see them being better.  I said that this shows she really was thinking like a good artist as an artist is always looking to improve their craft.  Then I mentioned that its important to acknowledge your successes and accomplishments as well.  She said she found herself writing until late in the night, but sometimes she’d get distracted and start surfing the web.  My response to this was my favorite dad-style advice that I like to give and that I made up myself which is, “You have to work on the things you love in life, or life will make you work on something that you don’t love.”  I also told her it was only natural to get distracted sometimes and to not be too hard on herself.  It was an enriching teaching experience and I felt like I really helped her poems and got her excited and confident about writing.

I workshopped with several other students as well and I basically followed a tried and tested workshop approach which is that I start by saying what I like about it.  Then I go into how it could be improved, which with these students usually involved more cohesion, then I’d close on something else that I liked about the poem.  I felt like with each workshop with me, the students came away from it with concrete ways to work on and improve their work and I believe they all felt encouraged and as if they understood their own work a bit better.  The main teacher of the class noticed me being helpful and increasingly suggested that students work with me.  This didn’t always help my chances, but sometimes it did.

Overall, I feel I learned a lot about the art of teaching in this class, partly from seeing the main teacher engage her students, which she did well and with warmth.  I also honed my workshopping abilities and figured out how to tune in to younger writers more and I feel I was successful in my attempts.  Not only that, but it felt like I’d done some good for the world if only just a tiny bit.



826 Chi Reflection

          I would like to talk about my experience doing the Superhero DNA field trip with sixth graders last Friday. I waited a while to do my field works hours which was not great because I almost did not have enough time to finish my hours, however I think that a positive thing that came out of that was that I was able to go to 826 Chi in the morning and do the field trips when I normally wouldn’t have been able to with work and school. The field trip lasted about four hours and I was wondering what we would be doing for it to last so long when the previous filed trip that I had done (the storybook field trip) only lasted three. I was pleasantly surprised to fined out that we would be talking about superheroes and then extracting DNA from a strawberry. Having never done something like this before, I was actually very excited, I felt almost like one of the kids getting to experiment for the first time and I also thought it would be super fun.

          Each of the volunteers got to sit at a table with the students to help them with their ideas about making their very own superhero. We talked about environmental traits and heritable traits and we gave examples of each so that the students could figure out what superhero fell in each category. At first, I thought that the students were not going to be as engaged in the creating a superhero activity and some of them were, however, I was happy to see that almost all of the students at my table were super excited and had wonderful ideas for their superheroes. During the experimental portion of the field trip I remember feeling very nervous about the students and thinking that they wouldn’t listen and start doing the steps in the experiment without guidance from the Head scientist (the woman in charge of the field trip). Despite my doubts, all of the students were incredible well behaved and always waited for the head scientist to guide them through each of the steps.

          For me, the creating your own superhero activity reminded me of Lynda Berry and how she asked her students to draw batman and while the students were not going to be creating something that already existed it was interesting to make the connection to Syllabus and look at hoe drawing activities affect students learning. I think that after having made a superhero they were more inclined to create a story for the character that they created. Overall, I feel that I learned so much from the tutoring sessions with students of all ages to the fields trips with the third and seventh graders. Even though I am aiming to be a high school English teachers I feel that I learned a lot from observing and interacting with younger students. Additionally being at 826 Chi has given me the opportunity to see how easy it is to get students engaged and interested in write if you just try. I am truly grateful for the experience that I have gained while volunteering at 826 Chi and I would definitely like to continue going when I have the time.


Two-Voiced Poem & Reflection (Offred & Serena’s undisclosed interaction while Offred is being raped by the commander)

I miss my daughter

I want a daughter

I’m just a body that produces

I’m just a body that fails to produce

I feel nothing when he forces himself on me

I feel infuriation when he forces himself on her

She stares deep into my soul, with disgust

I stare deep into her soul, envying her fertility

Why not Luke?…

Why not me?…

My body has cursed me,

My body has cursed me.




Prior to beginning my fieldwork for 826chi, I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. While you can sort of imagine what the experience will be like, the end result always happens to be something completely different than what is expected. My first day at 826chi, I was told I would only be observing which I would be lying if I said that I knew that was in fact true. My prior knowledge of 826chi came from previous tutors who all explained that the need for tutors is always extremely high, therefore, a regular supposed orientation turns into the first day. Knowing what I knew, I made my way to 826Chi on a breezy, October Thursday night for my first day of tutoring. Upon arriving, I was greeted rather warmly by all of the staff and made my acquaintance with Ricardo, the staff associate who would be in charge of coordinating the after-school session for the day. I arrived promptly at 3:30 and was intrigued as to where the students were, as I looked around the room and only saw fellow tutors. I asked when the students would be arriving and was informed that a handful of students arrived at 3:30pm but the larger majority of the students, arrived at 4:00pm. 4:00pm came around and sure enough, we were bombarded with students of all ages.

I was paired with a boy named Christopher and he was seven years old. I was originally under the impression that the students we would be working with would primarily be students of the secondary level. Therefore, when I first locked eyes with Christopher I was shocked that 826chi was inclusive for students of all ages, regardless of our strong focus on working with older students. However, I was still excited to take a swing at a tutoring session with a student incredibly younger that what I was used to. I began the session by directing Christopher to do the warm up writing exercise which went completely ignored. No matter the amount of times I asked him to begin his warm up exercise, he was hesitant to begin and rather focused on drawing which made me very confused. After several minutes of trying to convince him in all ways possible, my efforts continued to be unsuccessful. It was not until I truly took control and changed my tone to a more affirmative one, that I really took control of the session. In addition to this, I also incentivized, and we reached a mutual agreement that if he did the writing exercise, then we would play UNO at the end of the session.

As I rode the train back home that evening, I began reflecting on what went wrong in that tutoring session. I had done everything correctly, or so I thought. It wasn’t until that train ride home that I began to reflect on not only the session but on Christopher and myself. I realized at that moment that it wasn’t Christopher that was at fault, but it was my lack of dissecting why it was that he didn’t want to do the writing exercise. What I now realize is that this was a prime example of a student who perhaps has trouble articulating his thoughts on paper but excels in expressing his ideas in a different form such as drawing. Therefore, to me, this is what made the experience for me incredibly memorable as it allowed me to realize the need to be understanding of every students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the Syllabus text by Linda Barryit says, “The practice is to keep our hand in motion and to stay open to the image it is leaving for us: A message-fragment we may not recognize until we have enough of them to understand” (Barry, 2015). I remember having come across this impactful quote from the text however, failed to remember it and realize how applicable it really is. In this case, what I should have done with Christopher, was to, “stay open to the image” and allow his creativity to flourish rather than disregard his drawings completely. This experience, as frustrated as I was in the moment, made me realize that student self-expression comes in many forms and many students, fail to cooperate with writing not because they are being unruly, but because they don’t feel as comfortable as other students.

moth, narratives

Shiners and Shades

          One night five years ago, I woke up from a dream. I can remember nothing about the dream at all, except two words that felt as if they were whispered in my ear: “Shiners and Shades.” I sat up, opened my laptop and I furiously began researching and finding names for characters; from those two words alone a story began blossoming from my mind.
Now to give you some background information; When I was in middle school my family and I started going to church a lot. So much so that I became really involved with my youth group and made a lot of friends there. Church and the bible became an important part of life for me. Then I moved to Racine, Wisconsin my freshman year. I didn’t know anyone and I felt very isolated from my friends back at my old school. I stopped going to church, a friend from my youth group went to jail, and my best friend died in car accident: all within 9 months of school starting. I started reading when I moved and once all the bad shit started piling up, it became my only way of coping with the move, the loss of friends and the death of my best friend; it was a sort of escape for me.
I started to read so much that I would come home from school, go to my room and not come out unless I had to eat and then immediately after eating I’d go back to my room to read. I started collecting all of the books I read and I now own over 200 books. My parents were getting worried though and thought I was depressed and obsessed (I was but that’s another story). Sometime during my journey’s through fictitious lands I decided that I wanted to write a book of my own. All the books that I read helped find a piece of myself that I didn’t know I was missing, it felt that writing the book was also a piece that I needed to complete my puzzle. I hoped that by writing this book someone might read it one day and it would give them a piece to their puzzle; that was my goal anyway.
After deciding that I wanted to write a book I could not for the life me think of what to write about. I knew that I wanted it to be supernatural or religious in some way with romance involved because I’ve always have been a hopeless romantic; I just couldn’t think of what supernatural force to use in my story that hasn’t already been used in a million other stories: I wanted my story to be original and fresh and something that no one’s really touched on before. Then I had the dream.
Even though the dream gave me no substance, no information, nothing concrete that I could use as a basis for my story: I knew exactly what I wanted to do as soon as I had the dream. It was going to be about humans that had supernatural abilities that were given to them by God and you could tell if someone had these powers due to how bright their souls were thus the name: Shiners, kind of cheesy I know, but I’m rolling with it (if anyone has any suggestions I’d be happy to listen). There used to be many but now the numbers have dwindled. However, they also have an evil counterpart as most stories do; they used to be shiners but centuries ago, after Cain murdered his brother Abel, he lost his powers because he was no longer pure. Desperate to get his powers back he goes to Lucifer and he tells him that he has to continue to steal and consume human souls to maintain his power. Thus the Shades were born.
Now you’re probably all wondering what’s with the religious stuff? I’ll tell you. I wanted to incorporate my beliefs into the story. While my religious beliefs have changed and grown since middle school and high school I still believe in God and I still grew up learning from the bible, so I wanted to use that to my advantage and put it into my novel. I always loved the stories in the bible; they were interesting and sometimes frightening and now I have the chance to use them in my story and make them my own.
It’s been five years since that night and a lot has happened since then. I sadly stopped writing as much because of work and school and an overall lack of motivation. I was in a big rut and it was hard to get out. I would think of things to write about but then never put pen to paper. Two years ago I got a boyfriend and I told him that I wanted to write a book. I had some chapters that I had written during high school and I asked him to read them to make sure I wasn’t being too cheesy or repetitive etc. and he was always honest and helpful with ideas or things to fix or change. Then one day, he told me he wanted to write a book too: it was about the Angel of death defecting from heaven and battling the other archangels for power. Listening to him tell his story and ideas made me think of what I wanted to do with my story. Did I want it to be a single book or a series, how did I want it to end?
Suddenly hit me. Why don’t we combine our stories together?! My stories have obvious religious connections and so does his, all we had to do was make some connections between my main characters and his; using both storylines would create a much better ending and adventure overall. When I told him about my idea he completely agreed and now we’ve been writing the story together. We still want our stories to be our own but we help each other with writing processes and ideas and we’ve created a clear connection to our characters that can unfold as the story goes on.
It’s been a long journey since I decided to start reading and writing a book. I’ve done a lot of growing and I’ve had a lot of help along the way which I’m grateful for. I want to keep pushing myself to continue writing and get my book and/or books published. My goal is for the story to be popular enough to be a t.v. series of some kind because that would just be so cool to see a my story being told visually. Hopefully, one day you all can read or watch the story that my boyfriend and I created and enjoy it.