Grammar is Still Important

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Imagine with me, that it is a beautiful August evening that isn’t blazing hot and it is 8:00 p.m. Along with that beautiful setting, you see that there is going to be a Twitter chat about Grammar. I’m assuming most people will find better things to do. That particular setting wasn’t fiction, it was real and led me to another wonderful opportunity to lead the #miched chat with my co-author Troy Hicks on the topic of grammar.

 

Miched is the hashtag for Michigan educators and many others from across the nation to chat on Twitter about certain topics. Last Thursday was part of the Michigan author series that is taking place throughout the month of August. Dr. Hicks and I released the book From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age for which the conversation revolved around. After introducing the history of grammar at the beginning of our book, we discuss strategies for grammar instruction while incorporating technology.

 

During our conversation, the importance of grammar was challenged. The question came up from one of the participants about, “Is grammar really viewed as being important anymore?” This question really started to eat away at me after reflecting and processing what the question was truly asking. That particular question was discussed for at least ten minutes. With keeping that question in mind I started to think back to the many times I visit my local news website and see news articles riddled with grammar errors. Honestly, does anyone proofread these articles? Last year, I sent a short email to my local news station about an article I read and respectfully pointed out two errors. Though I wasn’t expecting a response, I wanted them to know that I am a teacher and I want authentic examples for my students to see and use. It was disheartening to see such poor writing skills from professionals.

 

By the end of the day, those “professionals” emailed me back. Instead of owning up to their mistakes and potentially saying they will do better next time, they pushed the blame onto the Associated Press. Hmmm, okay…did anyone read the story before just clicking a few buttons to throw it on their website? I’m guessing it was no one. I will also go out on a limb and say the news station wanted to be the first one locally to get the story up and out to viewers no matter if it was riddled with errors or not.

 

So, getting back to question of is grammar losing its importance, I am still leaning towards no. Do certain entities put less emphasis on grammar? Absolutely. For examples, there are companies such as Sarah Lee (Double Negative in their slogan) that use poor grammar to advertise their product. It does not mean that we should abandon the use of proper grammar or place less importance on it.

 

What it does mean is that we are going to have to dig deeper for more positive, yet accurate uses for our students and children. It also means we need to model proper use of grammar more frequently and show our students real world application. Finally, it means we need to push back against the improper use of grammar and maintain that it is an important part of English Language Arts. Just don’t offend anyone when you correct their grammar. 😉

 


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!

 

 

 


Rigor -vs- Vigor

I have officially arrived at NCTE. As a first time Vegas guest, I must say it is crazy. My body has not transitioned to the time change and I am up at 5:00 a.m. working on my blog. A nap may be order later, but who knows with so many great sessions.

Speaking of great sessions, yesterday evening Barry Lane gave another one of his spectacular performances for NWP teachers. Though I didn’t attend earlier annual meeting sessions, my NWP peeps convinced me to peek in on what Mr. Lane was doing. If you have ever been to one of Barry Lane’s presentations, you know it is very entertaining and informative.

After laughing continuously and feeling energized as ever, he brought up the term “rigor”, which has been associated with the Common Core Standards since they have been released. Teachers are supposed to have more “rigor” in the classroom with the CCSS. When he asked a woman in a video what her definition of rigor was she stumbled and passed the buck on to her friends that she was standing with. Needless to say, their definition was less than perfect. So Mr. Lane put up the first six definitions of rigor from the dictionary. Here are a few of them!

1. Strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.

2. A sever or harsh act, circumstance, etc.

Does this sound like something we should be infusing into our classrooms? Barry Lane had a few other definitions from the medical dictionary too. One medical definition is, shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill. Again, do we really want to be teaching something like this in our classroom? Tom Romano was even in a video where he said rigor is the sister of mortis. I cracked up on that one.

Instead of “rigor”, Mr. Lane said we should be teaching “vigor” instead. I couldn’t agree more, especially after seeing that definition

Vigor

1. Healthy physical or mental energy or power; vitality.

2. Force of healthy growth in any living matter or living organism.

Perhaps the two are easy to confuse. I know that vigor sounds much more appealing and attainable in my classroom. I also know “rigor” can occur in my classroom too and if I adhere to the definition, my students are going to get turned off as learners. Can there be a balance of both? What are your thoughts?

Cheers!


Writing Across the Curriculum with the Common Core

I don’t teach writing because I have to, I teach writing because it is a passion. It is a passion that was reignited in me after attending the Chippewa River Writing Project’s summer institute in 2010. Now, I can’t stop writing or talking about writing.  To a language arts teacher and someone who has that passion for writing, the Common Core Standards are great! Okay, so that is my opinion. I know others don’t share the same feeling. To be honest, the few that do like it, are on an island.  Nevertheless, the CCSS calls for there to be more writing across the curriculum.  In all reality, this idea should not come as any sort of surprise, but it in some arenas it is a game changer.  Our principal made sure writing was occurring across the spectrum this year.  Some teachers were already doing this, others had to be nudged on board.  With those that had to be nudged, I now have a clearer picture as to why they were essentially against this idea. Two factors are evident. 

First, the teachers who are against having their students write in their class are not quality writers.  I say this with all the respect in the world, but it is true.  For instance, you can not have confidence implementing more writing into your Science curriculum if you yourself are not comfortable writing or confident in showing students how a piece of writing should be set-up or written. I can comprehend this and it makes sense to me.  If I don’t know how to play golf correctly, I am not going to be comfortable or confident teaching someone how to do it.  As language arts teachers, perhaps it is our responsibility to mentor our colleagues instead of getting frustrated with them. Just a thought.

Although I take confidence into consideration, the second factor I have seen constantly and consistently is poor attitude.  In other words, poor attitudes by teachers.  Teachers who feel that writing belongs in the English classroom. An individual I once came into contact with every day, who was a teacher, told me writing was not their responsibility.  They didn’t take college courses to teach writing.  At the moment, when this conversation took place, I wanted to scream.  I’ll admit, at the time, I was sulking about the paper load I had and with good reason, but I probably shouldn’t have complained about it. However, one educator telling another educator it’s not their fault I chose to become a language arts teacher is rather unprofessional.  This type of attitude is only going to hurt our students when it comes to increasing rigor in their daily school lives, especially when the Common Core Standards call for this type of rigor as I mentioned in my last blog post.

As I head into the month of May I am having more conversations about making connections across the curriculum.  As a matter of fact, the math teacher and myself had a great conversation about the students writing a research report connected to the statistics unit that she will doing in class.  It won’t happen this year, but we will try to continue the conversation and definitely put something in place for next year. In addition, the language arts standards can easily work with the social studies state standards that we have.  The social studies teacher and I are going to be creating some cross curricular units where the students can write about a social studies topic and also read more authentic texts, such as the primary documents. 

Those teacher who do not teach language arts are no longer going to be able to hide in the corner and forget about implementing writing.  They will need to change their attitude, and be willing to accept the idea of writing in their classroom.

Cheers!