Have I Failed?

For the last two weeks I have been struggling with my 8th graders when it comes to writing. It all came to a head for me last week when I asked one of my 8th graders to give me the definition of a sentence and they couldn’t.  Then, after they understood what a sentence was, they couldn’t determine what was wrong with the thesis statement they had written.  The clause read “How there are similarities and differences.” They believed it was a sentence.  The sentence situation was only the beginning.

This past weekend I was going over outlines for a compare/contrast paper they are working on now. Needless to say, they were not meeting my expectations. Poor sentence quality, lack of transitions, and students not knowing how to follow simple guidelines on finishing an appropriate outline.  I instructed the students today that anyone lower than a 9 had to make corrections. I wanted this writing project to take 2 weeks tops.  I am on week 3 due to the poor quality of writing. Ultimately, I am frustrated about the fact my students are content on just turning in a paper or any other assignment and thinking it is just good enough.

Naturally, as I reflect, I start to put blame onto myself.  I had these students as 7th graders. Was I blind to the fact they are in need of some major intervention as writers? Did I let them slide too much last year on their writing assignments?  What has happened? I am starting to think I have failed them.  Other data suggests that I haven’t, but I still feel that way.

Now, because I am noticing more and more deficiencies, I am making some changes. I offer help Tuesday’s and Thursday’s during lunch time. In addition, I am making students redo, redo, redo before we move forward. However, I struggle with moving too slowly and deciding when I have to move forward. Furthermore, I can only get on their cases so much before they start tuning me out and I sound like the Charlie Brown Teacher…”Whant whant, whant!”

I wonder too if our society in general is have an impact on them. Do students notice that mediocrity is okay? Look at our government! They are our biggest models of “it is okay to fail and still get paid for it”.

Anyways, I am not here for a political battle, I just want to know if other middle school or high school teachers encounter some of the same problems I have been enduring for the last 2 weeks.

Cheers!


1 on 1 With Young Writers

Today I spent a considerable amount of time meeting with my students individually about their writing.  While I was doing this, the rest of my students were walking through a checklist making sure they had everything they needed before handing in their final draft for grading.  For the last four years I have dedicated a lot of time to making sure I meet with my students one on one about the major writing assignments they have throughout the year.  I firmly believe my students grow as writers with this instructional practice I have put into place.

Depending on the assignment, the students come prepared to talk to me.  The conference should focus around the student talking about their writing.  Now, I want to provide constructive feedback to my students, but the focus is for the student to talk about their writing. Purdue Owl provides a good resource for teachers interested in  starting one on one writing conferences.

Below are the basics for my writing conferences with my students.

  1. Conference shouldn’t last any longer than 3-4 minutes TOPS
  2. Student finds one specific area in their writing that they want to discuss with me (This may vary depending on the assignment)
  3. Student discusses their strengths in the piece of writing.
  4. Student discusses their weakness in the piece and what they are doing to improve their weakness.

I am in a unique situation where I get to teach both 7th an 8th grade English, which means I see the students for two years.  Writing conferences take time for the students to learn.  On most occasions when I begin writing conferences, the students expect me to do all of the talking.  Modeling the procedure is something I would suggest so students start to understand what their expectations will be during the meeting with them.  Unfortunately, it takes time and for my students it takes 3 or 4 times before they completely have a grasp on the procedure.

Taking time to talk one on one with my students about their writing not only helps my students as writers, but it helps me to build a trusting relationship with my students when it comes to their writing.  In addition, my students and I are talking and they are learning conversation skills that are a crucial life skill.

I am looking forward to seeing the amount of growth in this year’s 7th graders like I am seeing in the 8th graders.

Cheers!

 

 

 


Flipping Grammar

Last year, my principal approached our science teacher and myself to think about the idea of flipping some lessons in our classroom.  Since we have the ability to do so we thought it would be a great idea to try.  Here are our goals in doing flipped lessons:

1. Engage our students more.

2. Cut down on missing assignments.

3. Create more time in our classrooms to help remedial students.

4. Give the brighter students a chance to excel at activities presented with each lesson.

Our journey began by reading Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, which is a great book for anyone that is a beginner at flipping lessons.

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Our principal also had us go to some profession development that was very informative and well worth our time to help us develop what we wanted to accomplish with our students.

So, I decided in my classroom that I wanted to flip grammar.  This is an area kids want to fall asleep and at times can be difficult to engage them.  This year, it has been a success flipping grammar.  My 8th graders have been working a lot with flipped lessons on dialogue and some students created skits with dialogue and performed their skits in front of the class.  It was awesome! I wish I could have taken pics.

By no means am I an expert at flipping lessons yet, it will take me at least through this year to refine my lessons and approach. In addition, I need time to reflect back on what I have done this year too.

Below is a flipped lesson I did with my 7th graders on types of sentences. It is very amateur, but I like it. I used an iPad app called TouchCast, which is free. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.touchcast.com/mr_hyler/The-Latest-on-Sentence-Structure

Cheers!

 


Ready or Not, Here We Read

WOW! It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Now that the book is written and the school year is under way, it is time for me to get back into writing my blog and sharing what is going on in my classroom with my students.

So this past summer I “assigned” reading to my students and I feel that I may have failed my students as their teacher. Yes, I said it, I FAILED my students.  My intent was not turn them off to reading, it was to help with the Summer slump that can occur with our students when they don’t engage their brains at some point. I have a hard enough time motivating my middle school students to read now. Though I see more positive in the last two years, than I ever have.

I asked my students to pick one chapter book to read and to find one non-fiction article to read.  In addition, I gave them a short writing assignment to help me see that they actually did do the reading.

I am really trying hard to become a better reading teacher and I thought this would be something that could help them.  I even celebrated our reading we did over the summer with a treat trying to make it a big deal that we read. In addition, I held drawings for our students to get free books that I bought out of my pocket.

I wasn’t feeling the excitement from my students and there is only so much dancing and singing I can do about books before my middle school students look at me really funny.  Regardless, I still give them that excitement every day! At this point, I want to know where do middle school students lose their interest in reading.  What experiences are they having to turn them off to reading?  I had them take a small survey and here is what I found.

1. Most students couldn’t recall a time where they were “turned off” to reading.

2. My students are more resistant to reading when they are “forced” to read something.

3. Students want choice (I knew this already, but it was still nice to see).

4. Students feel they don’t have time to read when they are in middle school.

So, I am left thinking that I killed my students with “making” them read over the summer.  In addition, how do I get middle school students to realize they do have time to read? I need to do something different, or do more.  Any feedback would be great! Whatever it may be, I am not going to give up on my students.

Cheers!

 


Digital Literacy Summer Institute Day #2

I can’t write a short enough post to discuss every nugget of information I gained from the second day of the Digital Literacy SI. So, I will explain one idea that hit home with me as we proceeded through the morning/day.

Thinking about the lessons that are created within a given classroom, I want to pose the same question that was given to us. What drives our planning process?  Is it our own agenda?  Perhaps the content or curriculum (no, couldn’t be)? The amount of time we have to teach the lesson? Okay, I could go on and on here and to be quite honest, I have planned lessons around all of the above mentioned. This is where you shake your finger at me, right?

So, what about planning with the learner in mind? Yes, keeping the learner might seem to be a no-brainer.  Duh!! Well, it wasn’t to me.  I will be honest, I am not completely lost here, I have done it from time to time.  However, consistently keeping them in mind, I have failed myself and my students.

As our facilitators discussed how to frame our inquiry project, they included the idea of the TPACK model.

tpack

A great reading resource for the TPACK with reading and language arts is by Spires, Hervey, and Watson.

How many times do we focus our planning more on the content or the curriculum instead of the student?  In my opinion, I feel we are driven by our curriculum and our given content most days, if not every day. In addition, I know I feel pressed for time and have structured my lessons in such a way that I knew I could get my students to their next class on time. Pointless, if you think about the fact there is not any deeper learning taking place.

So, I wonder what others think about this. For me, I know that I will go back into the lesson plans I have already written and restructure them to best meet the needs of my students and create future lessons with the student as my main focus. Thoughts?

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!


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!