Digital Literacy Summer Institute Day #1

We were asked on Sunday at the Digital Literacy Summer Institute to watch Matt Harding’s video: Dancing to Connect to a Global Tribe and his This I Believe statement. If you haven’t watched his video, I encourage you to click on the link!

After watching his video we were asked to do the following:

  1. Write…what do you believe about digital literacy? What would your video look like and how would you use words to capture the essence of your images, ideas, and perspectives about digital literacy in a narrative form?
  2. Share your belief statements

Though it is my first draft, below is what I wrote in the short time we had to compose.

 

I believe digital literacy is a world that is newly discovered and has not revealed itself fully.

In 2010 when I went through the Summer Institute for the NWP, I was brought into a world that completely blew me away. As a visitor I saw a world where students were engaged, teachers were having fun, and creativity seemed to be at the center of it all.

I knew there had to be a different way to reach my students.  How was I going to get them to produce writing that was not only well written in conventional sense, but was thought provoking and brought out their creative freedom? Creative freedom that at one time was helping them bottle up and store away.

The introduction of the digital literacy world exploded in front of my face with students creating artifacts that reflected collaboration, visuals, blogs, wikis, posters, digital stories, reflection, and more. My students were getting sucked into a world that they wanted to be a part of and they were looking at me with compassion in their eyes as if telling me, “Thank-you, thank-you for bringing us home.”

What are your beliefs about digital literacy?

Cheers!

 


The Power and Questions of Revision

Just over a month ago I was asked to write a chapter for a book dealing with Technology and writing.  Another colleague and I had originally submitted a proposal for the book and our piece was accepted for a different project that spawned from the original proposal.  We declined to use our submitted proposal due to some personal preferences on both our parts as writers. I was relieved because I am co-authoring a book and I could see my life becoming more busy and with school, I knew it would be a challenge.

Just over a month ago I received an email to consider submitting the proposal that was originally submitted. I knew that I would be on my own with writing it and because I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity or back down from any challenge, I said yes! Insert big GULP! I had a week to type a 9-15 page chapter, single space.  Needless to say, I flipped out! I spent a few nights staying up until midnight getting it done.  Once submitted, I knew I was going to have to make some changes and I knew there were plenty of errors in it, but with the timeline given to me I did my best and submitted it for review.

About 3 weeks ago I received the reviews back and I knew it was time to get to work!  On the other hand, I was not expecting to reduce my 15 single paged chapter to be reduced to 8 pages double spaced as requested by the publisher.  I was starting to feel more pressure and the need to scream at the top of my lungs.  To make a long story short, I was able to effectively revise my original submission after some collaboration with great mentor and friend. I was even a day early and only 4 lines over 8 pages. WOOO HOOO!

After giving my brain a rest, I decided to discuss with my 8th graders what I had to do.  Their jaws dropped down to the ground. I actually had them do a quick write on it.  I asked them what would they do if they were in my shoes. Many of their responses were entertaining, from giving up hope to reducing the font down to 8, I laughed with sincerity at all of their silly responses.

Though I might have received some off the wall answers, when it came down to it, I was pleased with some of the serious replies they gave me.  Below are a list of suggestions my students had.

  • Go back and look at the requirements and decide what is most important.
  • Get rid of fluff or filler
  • Find what is more important and focus on making that better.
  • Record yourself reading the chapter and listen to it.  Decide where to cut based on recording.

There were other responses, but I continued to challenge my student’s thinking.  I posed three questions to them.

  1. How do writers, such as yourselves, determine what details are more important?
  2. What is classified as “filler” in a piece of writing?
  3. How do I determine that I need to reorganize or move things in my writing?

These were questions that my students struggled to answer.  I feel they are higher order thinking questions.  Often, at this time of year, 8th graders aren’t in the mood to think.  Nonetheless, I had a job to do and I wanted them to think.  Many students talked about going back to requirements/guidelines/rubrics to help determine what was more important.  In terms of moving sentences or chunks around, they struggled a bit with the question.

What this solidifies for me is that revision is not an easy process. Students in general have the misconception that revision is nothing more than fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc.  This is not the case!  Those items I mentioned are part of editing, not revising.

Revision is a difficult task to master and it takes time to understand what quality revision actually looks like.  For middle school students, they want nothing more than to complete the assignment and get it handed in.  The one strategy I found to be effective is to walk through my writing and talk through my thought process with my students so they can see what my thinking is and why I choose to move parts or eliminate them all together.  In order for our students to feel comfortable and motivated to revise their writing, we as teacher need to be comfortable with our own writing and be willing to show our students how we struggle with our own writing from day to day. I feel it is then we start to get our students to understand the power of revision.

Cheers!


Digital Portfolio Resources – Technology & Writing: New Approaches to Literacy Competency

 Below you will find many resources for using digital portfolios in the classroom.  Comment with any questions!

Digital Portfolio Websites

  1. http://www.michiganportfolios.org/
  2. http://electronicportfolios.com

Book Resources on Portfolios

  1. The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks
  2. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments by National Writing Project, Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Troy Hicks

The Many tools for Digital Portfolios

Cloud Based Spaces:  

Social Media Sites

Creating a Website

 

Marking Period Portfolio Reflection Questions:

  1. What piece did you choose to reflect on and why?
  2. What was your initial response to the comments by Mr. Hyler?
  3. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr. Hyler commented on.
  4. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comments by Mr. Hyler.
  5. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.

End of the year Portfolio Reflection Questions:

  • What were your expectations for this class before we started? Was the class what you expected? What goals did you set for yourself in regard to this class? (Check your writing into the day from September if you don’t remember.) How successful were you in accomplishing your goals? What is the most useful thing you’ve learned in this class? How have you grown intellectually this year? Academically?
  • Look through all the writing you’ve done this year. What have you tried that is new? How has your writing changed?  What is your favorite piece and why? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? How do you think of your writing abilities now compared to the beginning of the class? Has anything about your writing surprised you? What have you learned about the various kinds of writing you’ve done (narrative, informational, and argumentative)  What did you learn about revision? What kinds of feedback from your peers is most helpful?

CCSS Does Not Mean an S.O.S.

It feels good to take on a different format of writing with me writing this blog, I am not going to lie.  It has been over a month since my last post.  I have been extremely busy writing the book and submitting other pieces for publication.  The good news is that I feel as if the home stretch is here or at least near.  Recently, I have been doing more reading on the Common Core State Standards and simply listening to people have discussions on the curriculum as a whole.  After listening to some teachers rant and rave, completing some reading that left me shaking my head, I can’t help but ask anyone who is willing to listen, what is all of the complaining about, really?

I want to begin by mentioning how my state (Michigan) and some other states are trying to now “back out” of implementing the CCSS. Why you may ask?  Quite simply the fear of losing local control or state control of schools or so it appears that way.  This is one place I shake my head from side to side.  Let’s be rational here, the federal government is not trying to take over our schools. Let’s think about what one of the reasons the CCSS was developed.  One of the reasons was to have consistency within schools on what is being taught. Does it have higher demands for students? Yes sir! Is it going to be more work on our part as teachers? Yes ma’am.  Not once have I ever thought the Common Core was designed for a hostile government take over of any school.

Next, I want to address the parent (of a different school from where I teach) who threatened to take their 3 children out of the school their children attend if the teacher or district tried to use the Common Core as the curriculum.  I will be honest with you, I didn’t react to the parent in a hostile manner when I was listening. I just listened.  After their ranting and demoralizing of the CCSS, I asked one question.  What do you not like about the Common Core?  Their answer: It is too hard for my children and too demanding.  On the inside, I was screaming, but on the outside, I politely said thank you for sharing your concern.  To me, their response summed up why I see the work ethic I do today of some students, including the ones that I teach.  Some students (and parents) don’t understand they have to work hard in school!  It isn’t just about socializing or sports.  Furthermore, those students who may struggle a little, are probably going to have to work even harder. Wow and yes that does suck! Should I be teaching work ethic in my class too? Oh wait, I think I do!

Now, I am not saying the CCSS does not have flaws, because it does.  However, I really like what the Common Core is trying to do for our students.  Here are just a few things I notice:

  • Engages our students with more informational text.
  • Causes our students to have higher level thinking skills.
  • Consistency across states with curriculum.
  • The ability for flexibility on how we teach the skills that need to be met.
  • Students get engaged in all 3 genres (narrative, informational, argumentative.

While I notice the positives of the CCSS, the one gripe I will make public here is the little it says about students reflecting on their own work. Reflection is key for student improvement in whatever they do. As a matter of fact, it is a life skill that is essential for growing as an individual. I have to constantly reflect all the time on how to do a better job with my students.

With that being said, I can strongly say the CCSS is not going away anytime soon.  Though we don’t have to embrace it like a big fluffy teddy bear, it is no reason to toss out the emergency S.O.S. life belt.

Cheers!

 


Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!


Ode to the Narrative.

I am not sure if it is an appropriate title or not, but I just completed the first of four Google Hangouts I am having this week. I met with CRWP colleagues tonight in our first Monday book club chat. We are reading So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards). by James Fredricksen, Jeff Wilhelm and Michael Smith. Tonight we got the logistics out of the way and moved forward with a discussion about narrative writing in general.

Throughout our discussion we talked about the art of creating narratives and how teaching students to write a good narrative is difficult and takes a lot of practice for our students. Whether it is character development, purpose, detail, etc, it takes time for anyone to become quality narrative writers. What was perplexing to me is how narratives seem to be forgotten when considering the high school level. Why aren’t high school English teachers teaching narrative writing? Dr. Troy Hicks discussed how he has asked college students in the past about the last time they wrote anything creative such as a narrative; they often can’t remember or say middle/elementary school.

Some thoughts that came to mind during our discussion tonight were that we are spending too much time worrying about informational and argumentative writing. Hear me out, they are both important, but why abandon narratives so much in high school? I am sure ACT testing contributes somewhat to the disappearance of the narrative at the secondary level. With teachers wanting students to be successful, practicing argumentative writing is at the forefront. In addition, the common core standards are geared towards college and career readiness and any college student knows, they don’t write creative stories in their college courses. Now, when you add the thought of Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), teachers will continue to focus more on informational and argumentative writing. The SBA samples that are currently out don’t even allow students to create their own narrative. Instead, one sample writing assessment asks the students to read an existing narrative and rewrite it fixing and mistakes and revising it accordingly. Below is the link to that sample question.
http://sampleitems.smarterbalanced.org/itempreview/sbac/ELA.htm

Now you add teacher evaluation and the idea of student growth and student proficiency, the puzzle becomes even more complicated. In terms of the Common Core Curriculum, high school teachers are responsible for completing narrative writing with their students. As Dr. Hicks stated tonight (I am paraphrasing here), perhaps with narratives being brought into the light of our conversation, it is time for us as teachers to reclaim the teaching of narratives at the secondary level.

After all, I argued tonight that employers are looking for creativity and innovation in the hiring of new employees and narratives can help bring to the surface that creativity that is missing in new hires that companies are looking for.

Cheers!


Steady is the Pace

Recently I received an evaluation.  I want to say how thankful I am for an administrator who offers constructive feedback.  I often wonder how many teachers would take that constructive criticism personally or take it to heart and actually reflect on how they can better themselves.  Not to float my own boat, but I do A LOT of reflecting on what I need to do to make my students more successful. Often times, I am up well past midnight thinking about different strategies and lessons I can implement.

With the Common Core being fully implemented into my classroom and having less than  2 years under my belt of teaching 7th graders, I can’t help but feel I am not doing an effective job getting through to them.  Am I going too fast with my 7th graders?  Right now I feel as if I am not following my own advice where I said I would teach a mile deep and not a mile wide. I don’t want to push through curriculum for the the sake of saying I got through all of the curriculum, yet I know I have a responsibility to get through the standards.

Could the CCSS have anything to do with the way I am feeling?  Even with having minutes added to each of our core hours for more instructional time I find myself running over class time trying to squeeze in last minute details and key points with lessons.  Could there ever be enough time added to get through everything?

As I look back through what I have done this year, I am pleased with what I delivered in the way of curriculum to my students, despite the fact we have had snow days (I think I am one of few teachers who always wants school). However, did the content I deliver to my students really sink in?  Perhaps I did a better job of just skimming over content rather than making it rich and meaningful. Quizzes, unit test, and other forms of assessments show positive growth, but how much are they truly retaining and would they retain more if I slowed down?

Pacing for 7th graders has to be different than my 8th graders.  I have found plenty of support from other district’s pacing guides that help me draw that conclusion.  I am going to continue to reflect on what I can do differently in way of pacing and I am hoping I can continue to help my students to grow academically.

I am always going  to be a life long learner and will continue to strive to be my best. If there are any middle school teachers out there that would like to provide some suggestions, I am all ears.

Cheers!


Teaching Students to Reflect on Their Writing

Recently I came to the conclusion middle school students need instruction on how to effectively reflect on their writing. I just got done handing back my 7th graders book reviews. My classroom is essentially paperless and they had to complete the assignment using Google Docs. As I grade papers, whether it is 7th or 8th grade, I make notes on the areas my students struggle with throughout the particular writing assignment. Throughout this assignment, students struggled with basic spelling, sentence structure, and capitalization. In addition, students struggled with one major concept with the review, which was the compare/contrast section of the review.

Upon returning the student’s papers I asked the students to have me help them. I was frustrated with them not following directions. After all, I am well into the second semester and I needed them to realize their mistakes were nothing more then following simple directions. When I asked them what I can do to make them more successful…silence. Why couldn’t my students reflect on their own writing, or even their own work so I could help them grow?

After discussing with a colleague who had taught English before, we both came to the conclusion middle school students don’t know how to reflect on their work. My students have writing portfolios, both physical and digital. in addition, I have given them reflection prompts for their past assignments, but in all honesty I feel confident my students are more or less going through the motions rather then thinking critically about their own writing and how they can make it better. The Common Core State Standards say very little about reflection, but it is essential for creating a more rigorous classroom and for students to evaluate their own learning.

So, what can we do as middle school English teachers to help students reflect on their writing? To be honest, I don’t have any solid answers. One strategy I have adopted for my students is for them to look at a specific comment I have placed on their document. Then, they need to rewrite the comment and complete some tasks on a pre-made template I hand out to students. Below are the tasks.

1. What was your initial response to the comment by Mr. Hyler?

2. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr.Hyler commented on.

3. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comment by Mr. Hyler.

4. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.

I am sure there are other ways for students to reflect on their writing. I am going to continue to research this important task that is vital for developing strong writers and strong students in general.

Cheers!


Will the Common Core Burn Out Teachers?

I am almost 1/2 way through the 3rd marking period and I am not going to lie, I am exhausted. Now, I do have a full plate when it comes to everything else going on in my life, but I want to talk about just teaching for a moment. Despite the fact I just turned 35, I have no plans of slowing down anywhere.

Anyone who knows me, realizes I do not settle for average. It is one of the main reasons my principal and I get along so well. I work hard for my students and am trying to set an example for them all. In addition, I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and see endless Possibilities. Freedom to be creative with assessments, integration of technology, collaborative learning, more vigorous learning (Yes, I said vigorous, not rigorous!), and the idea students can do research projects are just a few reasons why I see the upside to the CCSS.

On the other hand, I hear and read the negativity about the Common Core weekly. Teachers don’t think it is clear enough, they feel the need to start over with lesson and unit plans, others feel the Core has unrealistic expectations for students from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

I hear everyone loud and clear and I am not trying to add to the complaining, but I am wondering if the Common Core is going to push some teachers over the edge. Currently I teach both 7th and 8th grade English and the CCSS is fully implemented. My lessons are not only driven by the Common Core, but I also do sample Smarter Balanced Assessment questions with each of my classes. I have very little time to do anything else. I am sure other teachers feel the same way.

With little time to breathe, I worry about a few things. First, I worry about the potential for quicker burn out amongst younger teachers who are entering the profession. Are the younger teachers going to feel the task of implementing a challenging curriculum too demanding? Will the CCSS overwhelm them to the point they seek other job opportunities? I guess time will tell.

In addition to new teacher burnout, I worry about teachers being too accepting of a canned curriculum program that teachers will purchase so they don’t have to do any work as far as creating thoughtful and inspiring lessons. It is a concern that is a reality, trust me. There are many textbook companies and publishing companies that are going to produce Common Core guides, lesson plans, how-to’s, and many other resources. Eventually, the market will be flooded with a plethora of information on how to reach our students through the CCSS.

In all honesty, it is going to take hard work and determination to elevate our students to the level they need to be. It is going to take collaborative meetings between elementary, middle and high school teachers to sort out the finer detail. We will be forced to rethink what we are doing in our own classrooms and reevaluate what can stay and what has to go. It is not going to be easy and thus far, for me, it hasn’t. However, I will continue to push forward and do what it takes to be successful with my students. Even if it means I take a thermos of coffee into work everyday to stay awake.

Cheers!


Myths as Informational Reading and Text

No, your not seeing things! I actually wrote the title you see before you.  Last year was my first year teaching 7th grade and my first year teaching myths.

Last year when I taught the myth unit, I felt it was a success.  We looked at many different types of myths from different parts of the world and students wrote their own myth.  This year I am continuing this mini – unit within my bigger informational text/writing unit.  Below is a list of the myths my 7th graders read.

  • “Persephone and Demeter” (Greek).
  • “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (Mesopotamian).
  • “The Secret Name of Ra” (Egyptian).
  • “Why the Sky is Away from the Earth” (African).
  • “The Instruction of Indra” (Hindu).
  • “Amaterasu” (Japanese).

All of these myths are found in our literature text book we have.  I use our literature book the longest during the time we read the myths. During the rest of the year, it is a filler where I may use a story to introduce a specific genre or a certain literary concept before going on to a much bigger piece of text such as a chapter book.

Now, besides sharing the different myths that my students read, I want to share the reason why I view myths with my students as informational text. I share at the beginning of my informational unit with both my 7th and 8th graders that informational reading and writing does two things: informs and explains. We also discuss how informational reading and writing helps individuals learn something they may not already know.

As many people know myths were stories created to explain events or objects in the world that could not otherwise be explained.  Despite the fact the explanations themselves revolve around supernatural forces, learning about different myths from around the world gives us better insight into the cultures from where they originated.  Furthermore, myths can lead us to look at the similarities and differences of the different beliefs and attitudes of traditional cultures.  Finally, the students are better informed leading them to identify and relate  to contemporary literature and modern English when there are references made to the myths we study.  So what information is being given or taught to the students? Specifically:

  • students learn about different cultural beliefs.
  • as an expansion for S.S., students learn about different regions in the world.
  • there are valuable lessons to be learned from each myth.
  • students gain insight into more contemporary literature and can better understand it.

Many English teachers may think I am really stretching this and perhaps taking a wrong approach to the way I teach my students about myths.  For me, I feel I am pushing or challenging  my students to think critically about the oral tradition that includes myths. The same oral tradition where legends are thought to be historical, but lack the evidence to prove them accurate and true.  Folk tales, fairy tales, and tall tales all come out of this tradition as well.  And although these may not hold truth, what better way will students learn about personification without a good fairy tale such as Pinocchio.

My students also write their own myth where a lesson has to be learned within their myth.  That can be saved for another post!

Cheers!