Expanding Narrative Writing With Beliefs and Memoirs

Before I really get into my writing tonight, I wanted to write down what I do in my grade book. My school uses a program called Powerschool for our attendance and our grades.  It is only our second year using it and it has had its challenges.  All complaining aside, this year I am doing something different that I have not done in the past, which I probably should have been.  When I am entering an assignment into the grade book portion, I add the standard being covered next to the name of the assignment. For instance,  the students just wrote a six word memoir.  In the grade book I wrote six word memoir (W.7.3).  I now can keep better track of what standards I have covered with the CCSS and if my administrator wants to see what I have been doing, it is all right there for him to see. Oh, and Powerschool does have a nice app for Ipad (when it works) to do your grades on the go.

With that being said, on to what the students did today in class.  First, on Friday, I handed out an opt out letter for the 7th/8th graders to take home to parents to explain to them we would be using 3 social media websites throughout the year (Schoology, Twitter, Celly).  The students were instructed to take them home to share with parents what each digital tool was and how they were being used in class.  A majority of the information in the letter was what each website provides in their help and question section of their sites.  If you want to see a copy of the letter just email me and I can send it to you.  I did receive 2 of the letters back today.  I must say I am very disappointed they were returned.  I feel parents are doing their children a dis-service if they are not allowing them access school appropriate social media websites.  One of the parents even told me it was my responsibility to teach their child to write down username and passwords for these sites.  I am not one to easily get upset, but I don’t feel I am out of line when I say by 7th or 8th grade, I hope a student can write down a username and password.  Needless to say, I will need to have alternate ways for those students to complete certain assignments.

My 7th and 8th graders did some really amazing journals today.  I didn’t bring home any student examples, but I will definitely need to include them in a future post.  The 7th graders did a sort of prequel today to their “This I Believe” essay by composing a list in their journals of 15-20 beliefs.  They are going to take that list and make a wordle on Wednesday and I will then display their wordles around the classroom. Wordle is a digital tool where students can create word clouds.  Students are then going to narrow those 15-20 beliefs down to their top 5.  From there, students will narrow it down to one belief to write their “This I believe Essay”.  Tomorrows class will be spent listening and reading NPR this I believe essays.  I started to do some scaffolding with my 8th graders today by having them expand from their 6 word memoirs.  In their journals I had them write a Twitter memoir.  The students could not exceed the 140 character mark set forth by Twitter.  I didn’t mind if students went under 140 characters, but I did challenge them to be longer than just one sentence. Otherwise, I would have wound up with more six word memoirs.  Students will need to type these on Wednesday when the mobile lab is in my room and their memoir tweet along with their 6 word memoir will be put into their digital portfolio. Standard W.8.3 and W.7.3 were discussed and partially used today.

  • (W.8.3) -3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
    1. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
    2. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    3. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.
    4. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
    5. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

W.7.3 standard is not that different from W.8.3.  See the CCSS website for details.

As always my classes will keep me busy this week and I will blog about my experiences as they happen. Tweet memoirs were discovered when I read Kelly Gallagher’s  Write Like This.

Cheers!


So Much to do, so Little Time

The first week of school is over and it has gone by extremely fast.  Friday was nothing but a blur.  I am very grateful we decided to change our homebase from 40 minutes each day to 18 minutes every other day.  This has allowed us to add approximately 3-4 minutes to our core classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  With three sections of 7th and 8th grade I still feel, however, I need more time in each of my hours.  I now have about 53 minutes for each class.

After our evacuation drill and pictures causing my 3rd hour 7th grade class to get behind and the unscheduled shutdown of the Schoology website causing my 5th hour 8th grade class to fall behind, Friday was a bit of a catch up day. To be honest, it allowed me to catch my breath.  Remember, as wonderful as it is to integrate mobile devices and digital tools into your classroom, it is important to stand back and observe what is happening with your students, good or bad, and to make sure the digital tool you are using is enhancing your lesson, unit, or classroom the way you want it.  Trying to do too much will not only overwhelm students, but it will overwhelm you. As of Friday, the only major set-back I dealt with were the 7th and 8th graders who could not log-in to a laptop because the server or the computer was not accepting their username and password.  The problem should be resolved next week.

On Friday, students finished up 6 word memoirs for both 7th and 8th grade. 8th graders moved forward and we had very good discussions about “The Osage Orange Tree” by William Stafford. The students were assigned to read the short story for homework and in addition, they were asked to do some very minor research about what an Osage Orange is and if the orange itself or the tree has any valuable use. Prior to the students leaving class Thursday with their homework we discussed the different ways they could quickly access the answers to my questions.  Besides accessing the internet, the students said they could find information from:

  • Ask teacher (besides me), parent, relative, etc.
  • Ask a neighbor
  • Go to the school library or local library really quick
  • Look in a school science book

Needless to say I was impressed with their responses and I was even more impressed with their answers when they came back on Friday.  They even taught me a few things that I didn’t know. Yes, my students did some research during a narrative unit.  When my 8th graders started class on Friday I wanted to do a quick check on whether they did their reading.  So, I had the students post 3 questions on Celly.  Students who did not have a cell phone wrote in their journals or could post to Schoology.  With the students having plenty of choices on how to complete the task, they went to work.  After they were finished composing their questions I asked them to try to respond to two of their classmates.  In some groups they had to respond to three students.  The students did an excellent job of responding to each other and we had a very vibrant discussion at the conclusion of class.  Students were then assigned vocabulary homework and I demonstrated to them the use of dictionary.com and showed them the app you can download on an Ipad or smart phone.  Overall, it was a very productive day.

I left my 7th and 8th grade with a few nuggets of information before each of them left for their next class.  I told them we would be going at a very quick pace.  However, I was not going to neglect the fact they needed to know the curriculum presented and taught to them.  I asked them to come and talk to me if at anytime they felt they were drowning and couldn’t tread water anymore.  I think I may see a few students stopping in after school.

Next week we look grammar, This I believe essays, and twitter memoirs.

Below are the CCSS I used on Friday.  Mostly with my 8th graders.

  1. RL.8.2 –  Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
  2. RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
  3. W.8.8 – Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation (partially).

 

Cheers!


Narrative Reading and Writing

After giving my 7th/8th graders a small grammar pre-test, I launched my first unit for the year.  When examining the Common Core standards I decided to launch a narrative unit first. Generally speaking, students really enjoy writing narrative pieces and reading them as well.  I kicked off the unit by displaying the CCSS literature standard and the writing standard on the whiteboard:

  • (RL.8.2)Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • (W.8.3)Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

    a. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

    b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

    c. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.

    d. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.

    e. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

*I am displaying the 8th grade standards here as an example.

I then wrote a few I can statements on the board so the students know what they will be able to do by the time we finish the unit.  I do not put all of the I can statements on the board at once.  I only put the ones on the board that the students will be currently working on.  In a given day students could see up to four I can statements.  Today, I had two on the board.

  1. I can analyze plot (the events that happen) to determine a theme (author’s overall message).
  2. I can define narrative and describe the basic parts of plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution).

After sharing the standards and explaining what we are going to be doing, I share with my students the CCSS website. In addition, I share with them the mastery connect app where they can access the CCSS at anytime to see what they will be learning.  I did actually have one student download it to their phone.

With all curriculum talk aside, I introduce my students to memoirs.  We discuss the characteristics of memoirs and then provide them with some models. The book I introduce them is The Freedom Writers.  I give the students background information on the book and then read a few passages out of the book.  We then focus our attention back to memoirs and I assign them to write a 6 word memoir.  I provide the students with several examples and then release them to write a 6 word memoir on Schoology.  I put their assignment under the discussion tab and ask them not only write their 6 word memoir here, but to collaborate and respond to one other classmate. Tomorrow students will go back and create their first writing piece to put into their portfolio by revising their 6 word memoir and adding a picture and putting it into Google Docs.  The 6 word memoir is the start to how the students will scaffold into a more complex memoir and narrative.  My 7th graders are going to write a This I believe Paper and my 8th graders are going to write the more complex memoir.  Below are some student examples of 6 word memoirs.

  • Dance all day, sleep all night. (7th grade)
  • Everything is lost, nothing is found. (7th grade)
  • Ate Mom’s cooking; died right there! (8th grade)
  • Keep smiling, even without the camera. (8th grade)

On a side note, my 5th hour class ran into a Schoology glitch today.  Schoology decided to shut down their site for an update or something along those lines, it was very inconvenient and instead of panicking, I had the 8th graders research online what is an osage orange and if it has a realistic purpose..  You always have to have plan B ready to go!

Cheers!


Not Enough Time: Digital Citizenship/Mobile Devices/Discussions

Day 2 of school had its bright spots and its challenges.  We are fortunate enough to have a mobile lab with 30 Dell Laptops for our students to use.  After finishing some typical house keeping items, I was ready to deploy the laptops to my students.  Before I assigned students to a computer, I began by asking students to help me make a list of examples of mobile devices.  The list the students compiled looked like this:

  1. laptops
  2. cell phones
  3. Kindles
  4. PSP
  5. Nintendo DS
  6. Ipad
  7. Ipod
  8. Itouch
  9. Nexus
  10. tablets

It was clear to me, whether it was 7th or 8th grade, the students had a clear grasp on the concept of what a mobile device is.  Upon completing our list on the whiteboard, I shifted their thinking to another topic that involved using mobile technologies; digital citizenship.  As an educator and an advocate for the use of mobile technology in the classroom, I was disappointed when I posed the question: “Who has heard of digital citizenship?” Out of all three of my 7th grade classes, not one student raised their hand.  This is a problem.  By 7th grade students need to be made well aware of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.  Needless to say, I felt it was necessary to discuss this topic with them.  During our conversation we discussed the characteristics of being a citizen. Students knew that a good citizen participated in community activities, was respectful, followed rules/laws, and needed to be helpful to others.  After students exhausted all the characteristics we talked about how they apply to being a digital citizen as well. Furthermore, I took the time to address cyber-bullying and sexting.  By the end of the week, I would like to develop a handout or sheet for the students to put inside of their planners stating their responsibilities as a digital citizen.  I also want to send the handout home to parents to help educate them as well.  The 8th graders were much  better when it came to digital citizenship and that is because I discussed it with them last year.  I did revisit cyber-bullying and sexting to pound home the importance behind what NOT to do when using a mobile device.

Even though I took more time discussing digital citizenship than what I wanted, it will be worth it in the long wrong.  Laptops were handed out to each student.  I called up 5 students at a time and assigned them a number.  The number they are assigned will be the same number laptop they will use in other classes.  This helps us as the teachers and our tech guy who to talk to if the computer has been used maliciously or it gets broken.  On the whiteboard the students were given written directions on what to do with the computer.

  1. Turn on the laptop
  2. Login to your school account
  3. Access Internet Explorer
  4. Go to www.schoology.com
  5. Watch the short video on the home page

After all of the students completed the tasks on the board, I walked them through the sign-up process for Schoology.  Students were given their individual course codes and then they had to fill in their names, usernames, and passwords.  I directed students to use their last name and first initial of their first name for their username.  For example, mine would by hylerj.  I asked them to make their passwords something easy to remember or use the same password they use for Facebook.  Schoology has an excellent feature available to teachers where they can reset a student’s password if they happen to forget it.  Now, I did run into a few glitches today with students not being able to log in to their school accounts meaning they couldn’t use the laptop that was in front of them.  Such is life when it comes to technology.  I had these students look on with other students who didn’t have difficulty logging in.

Despite the typical issues that came about today, I was able to get everyone signed into their courses I created.  We then walked through the files/links tab and the discussion tab.  We focused more of our attention on the discussion tab.  It is here where we will be collaborating as a class.  I will have the students post discussion questions for socratic discussions we will have in class.  It will be a place I may post reading questions after the students finish a reading homework assignment, and it is a space where students can ask me questions about homework or other assignments.  Today, I simply posted the question, what is your favorite music, music artist and why?  I instructed the students to post their reply and respond to 2 other members in the class.  Prior to releasing them to work on their own, I modeled for them what a quality response is to another member.  Responses like nice, wow, I agree, I like that, and great are not accessible.  I want my students to actually have a discussion, so I direct them to ask questions, be thoughtful and to put some time into their responses.  This conversation and modeling is worth it because students really start to have quality discussions.  Below is an example of what a discussion page looks like.

Once students got started, there weren’t any issues with them operating the site.  A lot of students were shocked how much it is like Facebook.  Even though it appears my students may not have done a lot in class today, they did complete at least one of the Common Core Standards.

  • Standards W.7.6 and W.8.6 – Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Students were able to identify technology (Schoology) and collaborated with peers and their teacher through technology to enhance their writing.

By the time the end of the day came, I felt like I had been holding my breath all day long.  It never seems like there is enough time to cover what needs to be done.  Tomorrow brings us to Narrative reading.

Cheers!


1st Day Reflections

As mentioned in my last blog, my goal is to write every day this year to reflect back on my experience.  Perhaps some of what I write tonight should have been written prior to the start of the first day of school, but if I didn’t take time to think about what I did, I couldn’t reflect, right?

This is my second year teaching both 7th and 8th grade language arts. I have to say I am completely amazed at the differences between the two grades.  There is a huge difference in maturity, both socially and academically.

Despite the differences, I felt both groups of students did fairly well today.  I am not sure what other teachers do on their first day of class, but I do not go over any classroom rules with my students.  Part of me believes that is what their expectation is from me and I like to keep my students guessing. Bwaaahaaahaaa! That was my evil, take over the world, laugh.  Instead of the rules, I jumped right in and had both my 7th and 8th grade students take a narrative reading pre-test.  The state of Michigan has required teachers and schools to measure student growth.  Our district has decided on a pre and post test as a way to measure student growth.  I was not about to give my students an eight page reading document and 36 questions for the reading portion.  Instead, I discussed with my principal how I have broken down my units into Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative.  This mirrors the Common Core Standards and three major areas of writing that the CCSS focuses on.  I do not however, teach just tree units, I teach six total units.  So, I have broken down my pre-tests and the students took a short seven question narrative reading pre-test.  This is only one part of the narrative pre-test.  I will be giving them a small grammar pre-test in the coming days over the grammar concepts we will cover during our narrative unit.  As a language arts department, the students will show growth through a writing portfolio throughout the year.  I know, it sounds confusing right?  If you haven’t already checked out Kevin Hodgson’s blog today, I encourage you to do so at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.  I think we all feel the way he has portrayed the teacher in his comic when it comes to juggling the Common Core.

I also addressed the homework policy for my classroom.  Now, as any middle school teacher knows, it is our job to prepare them for high school.  I am always amazed at the 7th graders response when we go over the homework policy.  Usually their mouths are wide open and they are disbelief.  This year I feel I am going hardcore my students.  To put in simply, they lose 50% for being one day late unless it is a major project where they will lose 30%.  If it is more than one day late, they get no credit. If you would like a copy of my homework policy just leave me a comment.  If my students bring it back signed by them and their parents tomorrow, I will give them extra credit.

I also took time with my students today setting up their writing notebooks or journals.  This is important because most days we start the hour by doing “writing into the hour”.  I set my notebook up very similar to how Jeff Anderson discusses journal writing in his book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage and Style into Writer’s Workshop. My classroom is indeed a writer’s workshop and this book was read by our language arts department prior to the start of last year.  This year we are reading Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher.  “Writing into the hour” is basic.  I give students a topic to write about.  The students can choose to write about the given topic or they can write about what is on their mind that day.  In addition, I allow my students to even go back to a previous days entry and either continue or revise that piece of writing.  With having so many choices, the students have no excuse not to be writing.  I give my students 5-7 minutes to write and ask them to forget about the editor in their head and just write.

With those two activities, there wasn’t a lot of time left in class.  I did hand out reading textbooks to my 8th graders and I tried to become more acquainted with my 7th graders by playing 2 truths and a lie with them.  It isn’t the most thought-provoking activity, but it is fun and the students seem to enjoy it.

Now tomorrow and the rest of the week is going to bring in a whirlwind of technology to the students.  Tomorrow the students will set-up their Schoology account and I will demonstrate and walk them through the reason we will be using this digital tool.  Thursday the students will set-up their Twitter accounts and Friday we will do a recap and then move our way towards getting our Celly accounts ready.  It is a busy week, so I am off to bed and ready to start another adventure tomorrow.  Email or leave a comment with any questions

Cheers!


Welcome Back

Well, my summer break was officially over this past week as I trudged through my mornings with my coffee in hand trying to fall back into a routine that will be a part of my daily life starting Tuesday.  To those teachers and administrators that have been back for awhile, I hope all is going well. Welcome back everyone!

It has been a busy summer and one of the best I have had since going through the summer writing institute in 2010. With that being said, I went back to school Monday with an open mind and an understanding that things were going to be different again. It seems over the past 5 years that I have been teaching at the middle school level, there has been some type of change; whether it has been teaching assignments, new staff, or even new administrators. The week was interesting, but also very trying.

I applaud my principal for keeping an open mind to the use of technology in the classroom. We had a two hour segment titled 21st century learning and there were three staff members who presented, including myself.  My principal wanted us to share what we were doing in our classroom to engage today’s learner.  Three different digital tools were presented to the staff:

  1. Moodle
  2. Celly
  3. Schoology

I of course being the big Celly user introduced this to my colleagues.

The middle school science teacher discussed Moodle, which I do not use and do not really care for.  I find it difficult to navigate and not very user friendly for the students.

Finally, one of our high school language arts teachers showed Schoology. All 7th-11th graders will be using Schoology this year as a way to communicate, get access to assignments, and collaborate. Parents can even see what is happening in class.

One of the bigger issues at the helm was student growth.  Our beloved politicians in my state want teachers to be able prove they are doing their job by displaying there was student growth.  What is this supposed to look like?  Well, that is superb question.  One way our principal wants us to show student growth is by giving a pre and post test.  In addition, we were to discuss other ways within our departments how we could potentially show student growth.  The language arts department discussed writing portfolios and the possibilities digital portfolios bring.  With students from grades 7-11 using Schoology, it would be easy to pass their digital portfolios from year to year.  Schoology syncs well with Google Docs, so students can create folders within Google docs and put their writing samples in it.  The more important question is what is the definition of student growth? If a student scores one more right on the post-test than what they did on the pre-test, is that considered student growth? What is classified as being proficient? 75%. 80%. It was a conversation that quite frankly literally gave me a headache.

I deem myself as a hard working teacher and I know my students get better by the end of the year, but what truly is an accurate way to measure student growth.  I am curious if there is anyone who has suggestions.

I am blessed to have a job and I love being a teacher. I know I will have another successful year based on the mere fact I will engage my students each and every day.  I want my students begging me to keep reading and writing.  That is my measure for student growth.

Keep reading and spread the word.  I want to write everyday during the school year.  I want to use it as a reflective time to help me form my thoughts for the book I am working on.

Cheers!


Mobile Devices: A Teachers Responsibility

Getting closer to the school year is dangerous for me.  I tend to have thought after thought going through my head and I get all of these ideas to do things in the classroom and I never make the conscious effort to write them down anywhere.  Well, today, I am.  Those that follow me and others who know me understand and know my passion for using cell phones and other mobile devices in the classroom.  Today, I started examining and thinking about using these devices from a different angle. An angle where I honestly feel it is my responsibility to help my students use these devices in the classroom and to teach them how to use them responsibly.

I can hear teachers screaming now saying, “Not me, it isn’t my responsibility!”  Yes, there are many skeptical teachers out there who believe these types of devices have no place in the classroom.  Others, already feel overwhelmed with the Common Core Standards and don’t want to add one more thing to their plate.  Though teaching students how to use mobile devices may have its challenges, it doesn’t add to my existing curriculum, it enhances it.   My passion for using mobile devices goes deeper than just being excited about the latest and greatest flashy items that can be used in the classroom.

1. Students Learn Differently – I have mentioned before how students grow up with technology in their hands.  From cell phones, Ipads, Kindles, and Nooks, it is easily accessible to students.  Think for a moment if a middle schooler has a question about anything in general.  Where do you think they look for that answer?  You got it, the internet!  In addition, according to Pew Internet Studies about 75% of students ages 12-17 possess cell phones. Those cell phones are used for texting (hmm, I smell writing opportunities here), emailing, surfing the internet and accessing social media outlets.  Our language arts department adopted Schoology for the upcoming school year ( a social media site for teachers and their students).  The bottom line is we can’t shove text books in front of our kids day after day or even have them do drill and kill exercises.  The best teachers I ever had from elementary to college were the ones that kept the class or students engaged.  Mobile devices can help me as a teacher to keep my students engaged.

2. Collaboration – One of the biggest reasons I love using mobile devices in my classroom is for collaboration. Literature circles are an easy way for teachers to expose their students to numerous novels and at the same time teach the students responsibility by assigning roles to each group member.  Keeping the spirit of the Common Core in mind, I add cell phones into the mix and my students not only collaborating with technology, but now the conversation can take place beyond the walls of the classroom and students start discussing the book without any prompting by me the teacher. Social media sites like Schoology also allows the students who don’t have mobile devices, to still interact via desktop computer.  In another instance, my students can collaborate on their writing via Google Docs.  For the past two years my students have been amazed at how Google Docs works and what it can provide.  Students instantly become connected learners when they collaborate on a piece of writing by their peers.  Google Docs was awesome for the writing group my colleague and I put together this past school year.  Watching students’ writing transform and go through the entire writing process is amazing.  The finished product is no doubt better with Google Docs because of the collaboration amongst students.

3. Digital Citizenship – To me this one term brings everything into focus for me. Part of me almost thinks as teachers we all have a duty to discuss and model this for our students. Again, some teachers may give the proverbial eye roll and bark out, “What about the parents?”  I know it may sound funny, but the parents are in just as much need to learn about digital citizenship.  Last week I proposed to my principal an “Ed Tech night” where parents get to engage themselves in what their child may do during a school day with technology.  In addition, I want to discuss with parents digital citizenship and what that means.  I want to talk to them about how students are using their cell phones in inappropriate and why it is inappropriate. Furthermore, discussing with parents what cyber bullying looks like and what affects it can have on another student.  Hopefully by engaging the parent as well as the student, some issues can be eliminated and parents will have a better grasp on why I use mobile devices in my classroom.  Needless to say, my principal is embracing the idea and we are meeting about it next week.

I am not sure if my reasoning is reasonable or even understandable, but I do know I am passionate about my job, my students, and the reasons it is important to implement mobile devices into my classroom.  When I hear in the hallway how much my students love my class because of how I use cell phones, I get pumped. After all, you don’t hear students say they enjoy language arts class.

Cheers!


Grammar, A Debate We Will Have Forever

All summer I have been writing in some capacity. I will be the first to admit, I struggle with grammar from time to time, but who doesn’t?  Grammar has been a perplexing issue for language arts/English teachers for year and years.  Some teachers may argue for a constant drill and kill approach, thinking the more that students do it, the better they will get at grammar.  Other educators let their student’s writing do the talking and examine where their weakness lie in their writing, then they plan and teach accordingly. A balance of both approaches is also used in classrooms.  Despite how you or your district take on the daunting task of hoping your students “get it”, I am here to tell you I don’t believe there is a magic spell out there for the proverbial lightbulb to click on instantly.

My lightbulb burns, at best, about as bright as lamp.  Experts are argue time and time again that we as the writing teachers aren’t doing our job and students are falling further and further behind. Of course, these “experts” are examining standardized test scores as part of their conclusion, and I am not even going to go down that road.  In addition, others believe the use of cell phone and social media is causing students to fall further and further behind because of their “text talk”.  Read this post in Education Week and let me know and others what you think.  I was outraged when I finished reading the post as were others that I have professional relationships with.  It is one more way to blame technology for shortcomings on standardized testing.  Articles such as this gives educators and districts more reason not to embrace technology.  It is bad enough students aren’t getting more of a 21st century education and aren’t connected the way they should be.  I am not saying technology is going to fix the grammar issues that seem to plaque our students.

What I want to say is I can remember all the way back to 8th grade when I had my orange grammar handbook. As a middle schooler, I was clueless from time to time when it came to things such as misplaced modifiers or using a semi-colon correctly.  There were concepts I understood and there were some I did not fully grasp.  I can also remember there were classmates that were way better at grammar than I was.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, the same thing we see with our students today.  Are there better approaches to teaching grammar? My goodness gracious, yes!  I encourage everyone to check out Jeff Anderson’s approach to grammar in his book Mechanically Inclined. I particularly like his express lane checkout approach to the writing his students do in Journals.  There are other methods available too.  Needless to say, our students aren’t going to be grammar experts by a long shot.  Yes, they should be achieving at a certain level, but grammar takes years and years to master in my opinion.  It isn’t going to happen over night and we need to stop whipping a horse that really hasn’t changed much over the years.  Every year I am looking for new ways to engage my students with grammar as should anyone else.  Some ideas work better than others, you just need to find what works for you and your class.  Furthermore, being a writing teacher, means we need to write with our students and only then will our students start taking more of a vested interest in their writing and then maybe they will start listening to those grammar lessons we give.

Cheers!


Unconnected Learners

I just finished listening in on Teachers Teaching Teachers tonight.  It was the kick-off for Connected Educators Month.  Check out the link here. Through many different topics and conversations that took place in the session, I decided to write my blog post tonight about connected learners and the unconnected learners that are reluctant to be connected.

Since going through the Summer Institute in 2010, I consider myself a connected learner.  What does this mean?  Well, it means I stay connected with other professionals through various social media sites, or other web platforms where ideas can be shared and essentially we become better teachers because we learn what is working in each other’s classroom and go forward with more learning tools in our belts.  For example, I find Twitter to be a phenomenal place to get unscripted professional development.  I find new websites, digital tools, and have conversations with other educators that help enrich my teaching. In addition, I may attend webinars, online book talks, or participate in subscribing to a blog.  There is a cornucopia of ways to be a connected learner.

Enriching my teaching and my students as learners is what I crave and what I thrive for each and every day.  The idea of “not being in teacher mode” during the summer or any other time of year, never crosses my mind.  I am not cutting down educators that may have made that comment in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, we all need a break.  I can’t help but wonder why there are teachers out there who do not want be connected or help their students become connected learners.  I understand there are districts who prevent their teachers from using technology to enhance their student’s learning.  This does not mean the teacher themselves can’t become connected in some way to help their students.  Also, what actually holds teachers back from becoming a connected learner and discovering the possibilities that awaits them?  Is it fear of using something like Twitter, Facebook, or Google +?  Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge of such technological tools and what they offer.  I also wonder if there are still teachers out there who think technology is just another gimmick, bell, or whistle to bring in the classroom.  Wait,  it is less of a wonder and more of a “I know”; but there are teachers who believe using technology within their lessons is just an excuse to use it. Grasping and understanding the “why” has not been attained.

One specific topic that came about in the discussion tonight was “lurkers”.  Lurkers are those people who in reality are connected, but never participate in what is happening.  For instance, I have participated in webinars where individual participants don’t do anything to actively participate in the session.  They sit and watch and are just there.  What motivates these individuals to “lurk”?  Are they not confident, just being good listeners, or are they just there because they have to be there as a requirement by a principal?

Connected Learning month will hopefully answer some of the questions that were brought up tonight.  On the other hand, the answers may already exist.  Nevertheless, connected learning can be powerful for teachers and students.  Online book discussions, webinars, social media with students, Youth Voices, Digital Is, etc. are all great ways to be connected and become better teachers and help your students be better learners.  Check out more resources on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website for connected learning.

Cheers!


21st Century Classroom

The term 21st century classroom is utilized a lot now.  Teachers and Schools alike are making steps towards a 21st century classroom. The steps may be small, (perhaps a crawl) or big; nevertheless, classrooms are edging towards a change.  I think there can be some confusion on what that type of classroom looks like.  In a recent conversation with a fellow Tweeter we were both examining a graphic that I found through another tweet. Below is the graphic.  You can read it better here.

The idea behind the picture is to show all the ideas, activities, etc. that goes on in a 21st century classroom. Though I want my students to be a part of classroom where there is technology use, it doesn’t mean students are sitting in front of some sort of mobile device, desktop computer, or laptop and I, as the teacher, am sitting at my desk while they work.  The picture does a poor job of truly showing what technology can do to transform a classroom.  The picture would be more powerful if it showed students sitting in a group collaborating with a digital device. To the left of the picture where the two hands are joined it states, “Integrating life skills into education can improve student engagement and retention and prepare them for 21st century careers.”  Collaboration is a life skill and is more important then ever. And with social media (mentioned in the bottom right hand), collaboration is inevitable. So, why isn’t this life skill being displayed?  Also, with teachers getting such a bad rap these days, why isn’t the teacher interacting with the children in this chart?

I do realize it is simply displaying the components of a 21st century classroom, but the graphics and some of the statements don’t truly deliver the power behind a 21st century classroom.  For example, my classroom is without a doubt 21st century.  As I have mentioned before my students use Celly.  To me, a 21st century classroom goes beyond the walls of my room.  Though I use Celly within my classroom, I have had many thought provoking conversations with my students outside of class.  Just this evening, I was chatting with some students about Oxymoron in literature and real life.  Digital tools such as mobile devices and Celly make it possible to show how students are learning beyond the walls of the classroom and this one conversation I had, truly reflects the capability of a 21st century classroom.

The picture also gives the top three reasons for teachers using technology in the classroom and I do agree with each of them, but we also need to realize one of the biggest reasons technology should be used is because we are dealing with digital natives.  My five year old reads on my ipad and his kindle fire.  The internet wasn’t even a huge deal until I was a freshman in college.  If we want to get through to our students and motivate them, we need to adapt our lessons to our audience.  To teach a 21st century learner, we must become a 21st century teacher. The Common Core Standards even address technology. A 21st century classroom is much more than placing equipment in front of our students and saying, “Have at it!”  It requires us to be up-to-date on the latest tools and possibly attend professional development to make us the 21st century teachers we need to become.

Cheers!