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!


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!