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!


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!