CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #1

It is without a doubt a whole different world when you are talking to middle schoolers about writing when they actually care and want to be writing.  All in all, the first day of middle school tech writing camp was a success. I now understand what NWP directors go through with logistics on the first day. My co-director and myself spent a good portion of the morning getting a majority of our students signed up for their Google accounts so they can use google docs.  Unfortunately the Ipads were not ready today so the students had to use their composition notebooks, which isn’t a major set back, it was just frustrating when it is a middle school tech camp and they couldn’t use the technology.

After their writing into the day was completed, we focused on argumentative writing with the campers and we used George Hillock’s Teaching Argumentative Writing and Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat.  The campers looked at two different cartoon murder scenes and wrote down what evidence or facts they saw in the picture.  Then, they used that evidence to form a rule or warrant.  If the evidence did not answer all of the questions the campers had, they wrote down those questions.  The students worked in groups on this and eventually they wrote a police report.  Before the students wrote their reports we had a detective from the CMU police department come in and speak to the campers about his job and what police reports look like and why writing is important in police work.  The students asked great questions about his profession and they asked really smart questions about the reports they were writing.  In addition to the detective, we showed a model of an actual police report that was done on a car theft.  I also showed the campers a short youtube video on writing a quality police report.  The video had to be slowed down because it went to fast, but the students were able to understand what we were asking.  When the students were done with writing their reports, all four groups shared out their report.  Next year, I am hoping they will be put into a google doc and then be shared with the other groups so they can collaborate and get feedback from their peers.

The really fun part came in the afternoon when the students got to use the digital still cameras and the digital video cameras.  The campers were instructed to make their own murder scene and take digital still pictures of the staged murder scene similar to the ones that were given to them earlier.  In addition, the campers were to take the digital video cameras and record a narrative that would explain the scene for others to follow.  Before the students were allowed to wander the building and stage their murder scenes, they needed to develop and write out their plan for what they wanted to do.  Furthermore, they needed to write out a script for their narrative. Once their scripts and plans were approved, they were able to start staging their scene.  What I want to do is load their images and videos into youthvoice.net.  Then, I want the camp participants to go to youth voices and watch other groups videos and look at their pictures.  After viewing other groups work, I want them to comment on their work. I have to upload their work tomorrow morning to the youth voices website.

The last item I had participants complete today was write a short reflection on the days events and discuss what they might have learned about argumentative writing, visual literacies, writing as a whole, etc.  Reflecting on my own work today,  I want students to have more time to play with the digital cameras.  I would also like to bring them in props to use next year (if we go this route).  It would also be beneficial for the participants to have more time to plan for their murder scene and script.

Again, it was a very successful day. I feel that it went well and it extremely fast.  Tomorrow we are exploring poetry and we have a poet lined up to come in and speak to the students.  It should be a blast!

Cheers!


Writing Reflections

On Thursday of this past week I asked my 8th graders to reflect back on their writing they have done this year.   Earlier in the week as I was developing my lesson plans I began to really think about the writing we have done this past year.  As I do every other year, I began to feel guilty because I was thinking I didn’t assign enough writing for them to do throughout the year.  So, when I described the reflection assignment for my students, we composed a list on the board.  If I was thinking about it, I would have taken a picture of the list and just posted the picture, but instead I will have to compose the list again here. Below you will see all of the writing I have done this year with my 8th graders.

1. This I believe Essay – Posted to our classroom wiki.

2. Alternate endings for The Giver by Louis Lowry (Students could do a traditional writing, Glog, or Comic Strip.

3. 25 word story

4. Sentence in a day

5. Compare/Contrast Essay between characters in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

6. Glog or Book Cube for Christmas break book (See previous post I have written).

7.Celly writing – writing journal prompts and collaboration with cell phones

8. Journal Writing on various topics every day

9. Extended journal writings – Students went back through previous journal writings and found ways to make them more detailed and better.

10. 50 word stories

11. Paper Tweets – a two day lesson on Twitter and tweeting.

12. Biographies – Posted to our classroom wiki.

13. 8th Grade Reflection writing

14. Police Reports – Modeled after George Hillocks Argumentative Writing Book

15. Musical Chair Writing – Post a comment or send me an email if you want information about this activity.

16. Article of the Week – (Title does not reflect the fact I didn’t do this every week)

17. Science Fiction Stories

18. Ticket out the door writing responses.

Now for the sake of time and not boring my few readers, I will just say there are a few more writing activities that  I have not posted.  When I reflect back on the amount of writing my students did this year, I have nothing to feel guilty about.  My students definitely did more writing than I did grading.  Kelly Gallagher argues this in his books.  We as teachers do not need to be grading everything our students do.  There were many occasions my students turned in writing and it was graded on a formative scale rather than be a summative grade. What I really noticed is how much digital writing my students have done this year.  My students wrote on Glogster, toondoo, used Celly phones in class, they used Google Docs/Drive and helped create a paperless classroom and used it regularly for collaboration.

The other thought I had was about academic rigor.  The Common Core Standards essentially helps guide teachers to develop more rigor in our classroom.  I still believe my students can do more writing and I will push my students to do more writing next year and the years to come.  If you want any information on any of the listed writing above, feel free to email me or make a comment.

Cheers!


Another Possible Use for Cell Phones

It is no secret that I am working on a book about cell phones.  I will not go into a lot of details because I don’t want to give anything away.  When one writes informational text, there is a certain amount of research that has to be done. I have been actively engaged in reading Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning by Lisa Nielson and Willyn Webb and Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell hone to Education by Liz Kolb. Both Books are resourceful and cutting edge. While reading these books I stumbled across a website called booksinmyphone.com.  The site is designed for a user to read books in your cell phone, a nice alternative to those students who don’t have a kindle, nook, or other e-reader. In addition, there isn’t any cost to download the books. Also, you can write your own book and upload it to their website.  The website itself is easy to navigate. You can browse through books by title or author and there are is a page that walks you through how to get the books onto your phone.  Now, I have not used this website/tool on my own phone and I have not had any students use it.  I can, however, see how this could be used in my classroom or other classrooms.

First, I can see using this tool during my mythology unit.  There are a few myths my students read in class and this could be a great tool to use along with Celly. The website has Beowulf, Aesop’s fables, Moby Dick, The Iliad, and The Odyssey.  How I envision this for my class is to have my students read one of these tales or myths on their phone after they have downloaded it (the website claims it works on “dumb” phones). After they read the story, I would have students grouped into a “Cell” on Celly and have them collaboratively have a discussion about what they read as homework or each student could write an extension of the story from one of the character’s perspective. Google Docs is another possible tool to us here next to reading the book.

Besides looking at myths, there are a plethora of classics available for download.  With the Common Core Standards (CCSS) pushing for the reading of more classic texts, this could be a tool that could enhance the language arts classroom. A Tale of Two Cities, Around the World in 80 Days, and Common Sense are just a few I came across looking at the website.

The downside here is creating an alternate activity/lesson for those students who don’t have cell phones. Students may have to have paper copies and post to the class Wiki space or call my Google phone number and leave a voice message in response to the reading.  No matter what is chosen, there has to be an alternative to those without cell phones.

There are still critics out there viewing this as just another excuse to use cell phones in the classroom. In my opinion, this is another way to connect with my 21st century learners that I teach every day.  Our students are engaged more with their devices, it is time to take advantage.

Cheers!


I got My Middle Schoolers to Like Reading and Lived to Tell About it!

It’s almost May, we are all wrapping up the end of the school year and for some of us, we are already dreaming about the summer days on the beach with a margarita in hand. For this teacher, I am getting increasingly sad as the days go by.

This year has been by far my most successful year when it has come to reading and writing. I have more students reading on their own. Furthermore, I see them having conversations about books without me prompting them. I am not a magician, but boy do I have a lot of students reading on their own this year and they are always wanting to talk about books. Though I am going to share insights into my classroom and some of the ideas I use in my classroom, it may not work for all.

1. Oral read to your middle school students. The idea was introduced to me this past fall during a professional development session I attended on Twitter called #titletalk. Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp co-lead the PD on the last Sunday of each month. I chose to read The Hunger Games to my students and I had countless students check out my copies of the 2nd and 3rd book, not to mention I had countless students order the books through Scholastic. They could not get enough and we had multiple conversations about the books. I even witnessed students talking about it at lunch.

2. Bring in authors. As my 7th graders finished up the myth and legends unit, I was able to bring in a Michigan author by the name of Frank Holes Jr. He talked to the students about the dogman myth and legend that exist here in Michigan and how he was inspired as a writer. It gave the students a unique opportunity to ask an author why he writes. Using a Michigan author helped keep costs down for my school. If costs are a concern, consult your student council leader for help, your librarian, and your principal. Boxtops for Education could potentially help too. I strongly believe this also showed my students that writers are real people instead of individuals who are untouchable.

3. Visit your school library. Early on I coordinated with my librarian for my middle school students to visit the library every two weeks. As the school year progressed, we have not visited it as often, but I still have students who request to go to the library to check out books. In addition, my librarian has done an excellent job of asking staff members, especially the language arts teachers, to give her book suggestions. She has taken our suggestions and put more books on the shelves for the students.

4. Read with your students. Every Monday we have designated time for our students to do silent reading and I make it a point to read with them. As teachers, we can’t preach to our students, especially middle schoolers, to read and not model it ourselves.

I could list a ton of other strategies for teachers to use. In addition to the four strategies I have listed, I am a firm believer in giving enough choices to both boys and girls in your classroom to be successful. More importantly, having a lot of choices when it comes to books is detrimental to their success.

Cheers!