Why Student Feedback Makes Teachers Better

First, I want to say thanks for all of my new followers here on my blog. I am trying hard to write more this school year. It is hard to believe my third week of school is over already.

This year as a staff we decided we wanted to follow a universal format for our students to write summaries. I presented the idea last year to our staff and it was accepted with open arms by everyone. To me, this was another proving point for me that as language arts teachers we need to be willing to reach across the isle and help other colleagues who aren’t so comfortable teaching students reading and writing skills. We decided to follow a format called TDPP, which comes from Get It Done! Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Jim Fredricksen.

T – Cite the Topic

D – What are the key Details

P – How are the details are Patterned

P – What is the Point made about the topic of those patterned details

 

The social studies teacher and I have been working closely together to help students become better readers and writers over the past year by doing article of the week, working on a Civil War Research paper together and just making sure we are on the same page when it comes to teaching our students reading strategies. Working together has been phenomenal and because of our collaboration, our students are learning more and becoming better readers and writers.

This year as the TDPP process was being reintroduced to our 8th graders, who have already seen it for a year, the Social Studies teacher had a great conversation with the students about how to make the process easier and the students gave some remarkable feedback that was shared with me. As we discussed our students feedback on the process, it occurred to us that we needed to make some changes in the process and our approach to teaching it to help our students be more successful when writing summaries. Below are the changes that we made.

T – Cite the Topic

M – Describe the Main Ideas that support the topic (3 main idea sentences for 8th grade, advance 7th graders as the year progresses)

P –  Explain what Point is being made by the main ideas

P – Wrap-uP sentence

We made the changes because the 8th graders vocalized that they were getting confused with the Details part of the TDPP process as well as the last two P’s because they almost felt they were the same. Now, we didn’t want students copying down specific details from the articles they are reading so we changed the D to an M. When discussing this with students it was helpful to talk about a grocery list and how we write down what we want, which are main ideas, but we don’t write down specific brands, which are details. It helped the students make the difference between the two.

To us, we felt the students were taking charge of their learning and we were moved by the fact they were asking questions, engaged, and willing to take an active role in their education. This reflection and feedback not only allowed our students to perform better on a concept that can at times be difficult for even college students to write, but it gave us insight into how we were teaching the students and it made us better teachers.

Personally, I am really excited how much the 8th graders have grown and retained from last year. I am excited to see where the year takes us!

 

 


Digital Portfolio Resources – Technology & Writing: New Approaches to Literacy Competency

 Below you will find many resources for using digital portfolios in the classroom.  Comment with any questions!

Digital Portfolio Websites

  1. http://www.michiganportfolios.org/
  2. http://electronicportfolios.com

Book Resources on Portfolios

  1. The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks
  2. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments by National Writing Project, Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Troy Hicks

The Many tools for Digital Portfolios

Cloud Based Spaces:  

Social Media Sites

Creating a Website

 

Marking Period Portfolio Reflection Questions:

  1. What piece did you choose to reflect on and why?
  2. What was your initial response to the comments by Mr. Hyler?
  3. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr. Hyler commented on.
  4. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comments by Mr. Hyler.
  5. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.

End of the year Portfolio Reflection Questions:

  • What were your expectations for this class before we started? Was the class what you expected? What goals did you set for yourself in regard to this class? (Check your writing into the day from September if you don’t remember.) How successful were you in accomplishing your goals? What is the most useful thing you’ve learned in this class? How have you grown intellectually this year? Academically?
  • Look through all the writing you’ve done this year. What have you tried that is new? How has your writing changed?  What is your favorite piece and why? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? How do you think of your writing abilities now compared to the beginning of the class? Has anything about your writing surprised you? What have you learned about the various kinds of writing you’ve done (narrative, informational, and argumentative)  What did you learn about revision? What kinds of feedback from your peers is most helpful?

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!


Transitioning from Narrative to Informational

Pushing forward this time of year seems to be a slow process and transitioning from narrative to informational reading and writing can be a rather challenging task with 7th and 8th graders.

Previously my students just completed a 12 week journey with narrative reading and writing.  From memoirs, to This I Believe, and on to mysteries, my students did a lot of reading and writing in the narrative world.

With the narrative unit in the rear view mirror, it is time to emerge my students into the informational world.  Before I write about my introductory lessons for this unit I want to share with you some thoughts shared at a few conferences I have attended since last Spring.

Recently I returned  from Las Vegas and the NCTE conference. While there I listened to Kelly Gallagher speak about writing in his classroom.  He echoed the thoughts he had at the end of  his book Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts about great writing isn’t just narrative alone, informational alone, or argumentative alone.  Great writing should involve elements from all three or at least more than one.  Jeff Anderson said the same thing at a session I attended last year at MCTE.  While trying to motivate us as writers, he pointed to a book on the triangle fire and discussed with us how the book used both narrative and informational elements to reach the reader.

Now, I relay this information because I want educators to understand that though I spend a lot of time on separate units revolving around Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative reading and writing, I am also building on each unit as I enter the next.  For example, I began my unit by displaying some of the Common Core Standards.

  • (RL.7.1) Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

 

We discuss the idea that informational reading and reading is used to inform and explain a given topic. I tell my students they are going to hear the words inform and explain A LOT from me.

Then,  we generate a list together on a shared Google Doc where they see information reading or writing.  Below are a few items they listed:

  • Magazines
  • Letters
  • Newspapers
  • Internet searches
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

When the students were done adding to the list we took some time to talk about what type of information each of these genres were trying to inform or explain or what was the purpose.  I was very satisfied with the conversation that took place.

To help demonstrate to students(7th grade) that there are reading selections with both narrative and informational elements I chose the short story “The Green Mamba” by Roald Dahl.  When the students were reading it they completed a T-Chart with one side labeled Narrative qualities and the other side labeled Informational qualities.  If you visit the ReadWriteThink website you can find a really nice T-chart for the student to use. When students complete the T-Chart I have them listen to the short story on CD (RI.7.7) and they complete a short quiz about the selection.

I feel my students begin to understand how a reading selection can have both narrative and informational qualities by completing the T-chart and listening to the story again.  The short story serves as a quality transition piece for my students as we dive into informational reading and writing.

Today we discussed Facebook and the type of information the social media website portrays.  After taking a short survey with my 8th graders, about 80% of them have Facebook but do not visit their page that often.  Most 8th graders said they visit it once a week.  Most students who had access to it via mobile phone didn’t even check Facebook during school.  It makes me wonder if Facebook is on the way out.  Both my 7th and 8th graders are creating Facebook profiles on paper and then we are going to use those profiles to create a profile on Schoology, the social media website I use in my classroom.  More to come later!

Cheers!


Getting a Grasp on Good Readers and Writers

It has been busy the last few school days of school. I feel as if I am wasting time at certain moments, but I know what I am doing only paves the way for the rest of the year. As I sit here in my local library, escaping the hustle and bustle at my house, it occurs to me that within the first few weeks of school, I still do not have a clearly painted picture of my students as readers and writers.

Thursday was great with my middle schoolers! I felt very accomplished with both 7th and 8th graders.  The 7th graders continued their brainstorming and pre-writing with completing their wordles about their beliefs.  It was an interesting start to the morning when students were having difficulty with the website freezing up from time to time and they had to start over.  Then, the printer was having issues with the ink cartridge and I had to have that replaced.  Needless to say, I was off to a rough start with the 1st hour of the day. As wonderful as technology may be at certain times, it still can cause major issues with completing your lessons you may have for the day. The students completed their wordles and handed them into the homework tray. As part of the brainstorming process for their “This I Believe” essays, I gave them a grade on their wordle.  Next, I gave the students an experience survey as a pre-reading activity for the novel we are going to start on Monday or Tuesday, depending on time.   The 7th graders are going to be reading The Acorn People by Ron Jones. In my opinion, it is a very compelling tale about a young man right out of college who learns to look past people’s differences and see people for who they really are and as a result the campers are allowed to be themselves. Below is the survey I gave to my 7th graders.  I posted it on Schoology for them to start the discussion.

  • Pick at least two questions to answer for discussion. Please use QIS and explain with detail. Respond to at least two classmates.Have you ever…

    1. Been faced with a challenge that seemed not only unpleasant – but impossible?

    2. Felt uncomfortable around someone very different from you?

    3. Felt uncomfortable around a physically or mentally handicapped individual?

    4. Felt adults underestimated your abilities?

    5. Met someone who stayed positive no matter what?

If anyone is curious about what QIS is, it stands for Question Inclusive Statement. I am a huge fan of my students writing in complete sentences that includes part of the question. This survey acts as a springboard for our discussion prior to the novel.  The students are already doing an excellent job of discussing the questions on Schoology.  In addition, we will also have another discussion about disabilities.  I am thinking I may have the students do a short 2 minute video using a webcam describing what they think are their disabilities might be.

In terms of technology, the 7th graders have been fully submerged.  Friday I finally was able to send home the Gmail/Google Drive letter to gain parents permission for 7th graders to create a Gmail account.  If you would like to see the letter I sent home, just email me.

The 8th grader have spent more time writing this past Thursday and Friday.  Seeing how the 8th graders already had a Gmail set up from last year, we took some time and I showed them how to set up a folder on Google Drive to start their digital portfolio.  When they were done setting up their folder, I had them put their 6 word memoir and their 140 character Twitter memoir in their digital portfolios. When they completed adding work to their portfolio, I had the students try something I have not tried for a very long time.  The 8th graders completed their first reading assessment on a short story we read earlier in the week.  On Schoology, in the discussion section, I asked the students to take an event from the story “The Osage Orange Tree” and I asked them to write the event from the antagonists point of view. As readers we only saw the story from the narrators prospective. I wanted the students to write the event from that other point of view and ask themselves if the story changed at all.  I want my students to understand how the outcome of the story could be completely different if told from another characters point of view.  We actually spent some time talking about how The Hunger Games could be an entirely different story if it were told from Haymitch’s point of view.  The students of course laughed and I think they got what I was trying to say.  Upon reading their responses, most students did a great job and I started see some creativity pop out in some of their writing.  Others, still struggled with the idea and what I was trying to get them to do.

These first few weeks have been used to get a lot of technology and digital tools up and running. On the other hand, both 7th and 8th grade have already read a shorts story and completed 2-3 writing tasks.  Even though the students have been busy, I still don’t feel I have a grasp on what type of reading and writing skills they have.  I am referring more to the 7th graders of course, because I had the 8th graders all ready last year.  Next week I do plan on sitting down and talking with each of the 7th graders to discuss what their strengths and weaknesses are as readers and writers.

As I prepare for next week, I am looking forward to starting both grades novels and their bigger writing assignments.

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!


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!


Reading and the Common Core

For the past two weeks I have been really diving into the Common Core Standards.  As I have mentioned before my school adopted the Common Core starting this year.  I have to say I am greatful for this because it really gives my colleagues and I a chance to really get organized and put them into place for the future.  Those of you that are teaching the Common Core know that they are challenging.  I don’t know about you, but I love a challenge.

I have really been focused lately on the reading standards.  More specifically the texts suggested that “illustrate the complexity, quality, and Range of Student Reading” for grades 6-8.  Below are just a few examples of suggested literature (stories, dramas, poetry) reading the Common Core gives in case you haven’t seen them.

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
  • The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
  • Dragonwings by Laurence Yep
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

Now, all of these deserve some recoginition, but I have some general concerns and questions about the suggested literature list posted by the Common Core. Even though there seems to be a focus on classics here and the the suggested literature for high school, my biggest concern is that not of these texts reflect any work done by current or more recent authors.  The most recent work was done by Mildred Taylor and that was published in 1976.  Currently my 7th graders are reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and I am getting positive feedback from them for the most part.  The othe titles on here I feel are not that attractive to middle level readers.  As most poeple know, I am a huge advocate for boy’s literacy and I assure you Little Women will not go over to well with middle school boys.  I remember grabbing this book off the shelf in my middle school library as a 7th grader.  I read the first 60 pages and took it back.  It was not for me.  Now, I know as teachers we are NOT required to teach these literature pieces, but I feel like I am put into a tough spot as a teacher not to choose them.  Being part of a small district, I know it will be tough as a language arts committee to approach our district improvement team and ask for sets of these novels.  That is an expendature that is not on the docket yet.  So I have 4 questions:

  1.  What literature can I choose if these titles that are suggested are unattractive? 
  2.  How do I look at what literature I am teaching now in class and decide is it perplexing and challenging enough to meet the standards?
  3. Do I have to completely redo my curriculum and units I am doing in class now to implement those types of texts that are more challenging?
  4. How does a district divide up the literature and suggested informational texts between grades 6-8?

I am not saying these are difficult questions to answer, but what I am saying is perhaps there could have been a list of books that could more closely connect with students today. Less classics, more modern selections.  Who picked these suggested texts anyway? I know there has to be complex, modern texts available that can do the same things that the suggested texts can do.  On another note, I feel as if we are on a spinning wheel of curriculum where we have to implement, yet again, a new curriculum and try to figure out how it fits into our classrooms.

I will continue to do research and figure out what are some options that are available and I am ready for any feedback anybody hasn for me and others.

Cheers!


Book Project for Christmas Break

Friday was the kick off for my students to begin their Christmas vacation book project. This is the first year I have had any of my students do the project while on a break. To begin, my students have to choose a book that is at least 100 pages long and the book can not be related to a movie in anyway. In addition, I ask the students to not read something they have not already read. At the conclusion of their reading they must choose to do 1 of 2 projects. They need to either make a 6 sided three-demential cube or create a glog on glogster.com. The three-demential cube is related to a math unit they covered in their math class dealing with surface area and three-demential shapes. The choice of the glog comes from the technology standard that comes out of the CCSS. Overall, my main goal of the project is for my students to be engaged with reading on their own and for them to explore some new genres. Furthermore, my requirements the students are meeting for the project are covering some of the reading standards for the Common Core. For example, tying theme or the central idea to the characters, setting and plot. Also, I don’t want my students being bored with a traditional book report. If you are attending the Michigan Reading Association(MRA) conference in March, I will presenting some student examples in my session.

So, to get them ready for this project, I have taken the 7th and 8th graders down to the library and the book fair for the past two weeks and I have had some interesting conversations with my students and I have witnessed some miraculous transformation with my students. As always I received a few grumbles and groans about the project. Little did my students know, most of them would be engaged in a book outside of class. I am orally reading The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins with my students and we are just about finished. My students are begging me more and more each day to keep reading. With the book project, I have several students reading the second book in the series and I am seeing students read in the hallway. These are 7th and 8th graders I am talking about. It has been amazing. The math teacher approached me last week and said she was having great conversations with students about books and what they are reading. She has enjoyed it. I think she has even had to get after kids for reading in her class.

Just the other day I had several boys ask me if they could read Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. I said sure why not. I am in full support of graphic novels. Nevertheless, they were really surprised by my response to their answer. I clarified to them I am pleased they are taking an interest in reading something. Hell, I remember growing up spending hours in my local library reading Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.

After the boys and I talked, I approached a young man who was struggling with finding a book. I asked him his interests and after discovering he liked the outdoors and hunting, I pointed him to the author Gary Paulson and a book by a different author called Touching Spirit Bear. Great author and great book. After he made his decision, he was asking me about what the big deal was about reading. He was struggling with why people talk about books and form book clubs. I asked him if he felt left out. He responded by saying he could never understand what they were talking about. I worked this conversation to the fullest and told him it isn’t so much fun feeling like you don’t belong or know what people are talking about. He is definitely one of the popular kids and he never did respond, but I think he got the point of what I was saying.

The final thing I noticed was how much my students opened up and responded to me when I actually did take a vested interest in them and asked them about books they have read and what they they like to read. I have been forming more solid relationships with my students all because of reading. Who says reading isn’t powerful? I beg to differ and I can’t wait to see what kind of work my students produce over Christmas break.

Cheers!