Killing Passion for Reading in March

March is over and another year has passed where elementary teachers have celebrated reading with “March is Reading” month.

I like a party as much as the next person. I love socializing, dressing up if there is a theme, and who can forget about the food. Okay, so I love eating! I don’t consider myself a party pooper by any stretch, but can you imagine trying to have a Hawaiian Luau for an entire month?  That is a lot of pineapple and roast pig!

The point I am trying to make is that I feel we are doing our students a disservice when it comes to “March is Reading” month. Every day, on the calendar sent home with my oldest,  is a different way for my child and his classmates to celebrate reading.  Whether it is wearing flip-flops or reading with an e-Reader, the idea is to motivate students to want to read and for them to be excited about it.  For 31 days students are asked to do something different in association with reading to make it feel fun.  Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning of this post, imagine going to a pig roast 31 days in a row.  After awhile, you are going to crave something different.

I want my students to be excited about reading, but if they have been repeatedly bombarded in elementary school every March for an average of 6 years, they may have a bad taste in their mouth by the time they reach middle school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors too.  Such as giving students questions at the end of every single chapter.  Something Kelly Gallagher calls Readacide

I don’t want to take just a month to focus on the importance of reading or to celebrate it. I want to celebrate it all year and motivate my students throughout the whole year and throughout their lives hopefully.

I have always been diligently trying to find when and how middle school students lose their passion for reading. I have been pestering my 8th grade students all year about why they don’t like reading and I get responses such as:

  1. They don’t have time
  2. Availability of resources in limited
  3. Being forced to read something that is not interesting
  4. March is reading month killed their love.

The last reason made me raise my eyebrow and let out a hearty, “really?”  However, it did make me think long and hard about “March is Reading” month that takes places in schools. I will admit, I don’t do a lot in the month of March as far as recognizing the month and the reading focus the month brings.  My students are reading and I still like to read to them because I feel it is important.

I am always open to new ways to get my students motivated to read, but I am not going to do overkill with my students. This is not an attack on elementary teachers or any other teachers.  I simply am asking that we should reflect on our practices and decide if what we are doing is best for students.

Fighting the Good Fight with Technology in the Classroom

Last Monday I had  a chance to present and talk with teachers at our local writing project site; the Chippewa River Writing Project. There were many great sessions where I took a ton of valuable information and resources away from the two sessions I attended. In addition, we had a spectacular Keynote speaker, Jim Fredricksen who is the author of  So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards). His ideas and thoughts on narrative are very thought provoking and have made me realize that it isn’t easy for students to write narratives.

My own presentation gave the teachers and pre-service teachers a sneak peek into the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks titled: Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools due out March 6th. As I discussed with the participants some of the digital tools I use in my own classroom, a very interesting question was brought to my attention.

  • What do we do when the technology director blocks sites that are useful to students and won’t open them?

It is a great question and though I don’t have the answer, I can offer some suggestions that may help with your argument for implementing certain sites or apps withing your everyday lessons.

  1. Access and read your school’s acceptable use policy.
  2. Have face-to-face conversations with your principal.
  3. Discuss with colleagues what you would like to do and see what they are thinking – perhaps they can add support for you.
  4. Analyze your current technology situation at school. Will students have access to computers, iPads, cell phones, tablets, etc.?
  5. Why? Why are you using the app or site for your given lesson?

It occurred to me after the teacher asked the question that if the time is taken to thoroughly read the acceptable use policy it can work to a teacher’s advantage when it comes to trying to implement technology.  I hear teachers from time to time stating that the acceptable use policy is what was their demise when it came to their idea to implement some type of technology.  Though there is no doubt this may be true, I would approach it is how can it help my case.

After looking over the acceptable use policy, I feel it is vital to have a well prepared conversation with your principal and other administration.  Thankfully, I have a principal and a superintendent that sees the benefit of technology and they both understand how students are learning today.  Remember this too, Technology directors aren’t the final line of trying to open up a digital too.  I have overwhelming respect for Tech directors and the very reason they may not be allowing a site or app to be available is because the school may not have the capacity. However, administration should have the final say and it should be a collaborative conversation between administration and the director. It shouldn’t be left up to just the director. Thankfully, I also have a great tech director at our school which makes it easy where I teach.

The final point I would like to elaborate on is the why.  Why are you using the tool?  How does it benefit the students? Furthermore, I want to direct you to the info-graphic below.

Technology Purpose2

I want to give credit where credit is due for this take on using tech in the classroom. However, because I have seen it on Google + and Twitter several times…I have lost where it originated. I want to go out on a limb and say this is NOT mine and I did NOT create it.  The point of the info-graphic is to not turn people off to Prezi, blogs, or Wordles.  I perceive it as something for us to think about and remind us that we shouldn’t use these tools for just the sake of using them because they are cool or the students think they are cool.

Student engagement is something we all want, but we should also keep the student at the center of our lessons and ask the question: How are my students going to benefit from using this tool and how is it going to be used to further their education?

Just some thoughts to consider when trying to fight the good fight on using technology in the classroom.

Cheers!

Teachers Reflecting

I was a basketball coach for almost 12 years at all levels and as a coach I always reflected after each practice, game, and season how I could be better individually and how I could get my programs better.  I think that same principle applies to teaching.  After every class, lesson, day, week, year, etc. I am constantly trying to find ways to get better and help my students to be more successful. 

There are plenty of high quality teachers that reflect continuously on their practices and make adjustments from hour to hour, day to day, and year to year. But as I continue to wrap my brain around the idea of reflecting, I wonder if it is possible and how it can be possible to have teachers reflect on their own teaching to better serve students. In other words, how does a principal or fellow teacher establish a routine where reflecting on one’s own teaching should be done without it coming across harshly?  How do we get colleagues to step outside of their comfort boxes to try new instructional practices where they may have a more substantial impact on student learning?  Even though reflecting may be part of my professional routine, it may not be the routine of a few teachers down the hall (just speaking in generalities here, this does not necessarily reflect my own school or work environment).

 Students should be at the center of our lessons and units and we should start with them in mind when we create our lessons and units. Education is changing and has changed over the years. It should come as no surprise to any educator. We have the Common Core, new teacher evaluation, and the introduction of more technology into the classroom just to name a few.  Myself being in the mix of it all, I feel it is imperative that every educator takes time to reflect on what they are doing in their own classroom and make adjustments.  Don’t be afraid to try new lessons, teaching strategies, approaches, technologies, etc.  We need to have open minds to how our students learn and constantly think about what we can do to make our students better! They don’t learn the same way they did 20 or even 10 years ago. If we as educators can model for our students that we take the time to reflect, it can help our students to embrace that life skill that can be applied in all situations.

Cheers!

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!

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!

 

 

 

Flipping Grammar

Last year, my principal approached our science teacher and myself to think about the idea of flipping some lessons in our classroom.  Since we have the ability to do so we thought it would be a great idea to try.  Here are our goals in doing flipped lessons:

1. Engage our students more.

2. Cut down on missing assignments.

3. Create more time in our classrooms to help remedial students.

4. Give the brighter students a chance to excel at activities presented with each lesson.

Our journey began by reading Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, which is a great book for anyone that is a beginner at flipping lessons.

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Our principal also had us go to some profession development that was very informative and well worth our time to help us develop what we wanted to accomplish with our students.

So, I decided in my classroom that I wanted to flip grammar.  This is an area kids want to fall asleep and at times can be difficult to engage them.  This year, it has been a success flipping grammar.  My 8th graders have been working a lot with flipped lessons on dialogue and some students created skits with dialogue and performed their skits in front of the class.  It was awesome! I wish I could have taken pics.

By no means am I an expert at flipping lessons yet, it will take me at least through this year to refine my lessons and approach. In addition, I need time to reflect back on what I have done this year too.

Below is a flipped lesson I did with my 7th graders on types of sentences. It is very amateur, but I like it. I used an iPad app called TouchCast, which is free. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.touchcast.com/mr_hyler/The-Latest-on-Sentence-Structure

Cheers!

 

Ready or Not, Here We Read

WOW! It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Now that the book is written and the school year is under way, it is time for me to get back into writing my blog and sharing what is going on in my classroom with my students.

So this past summer I “assigned” reading to my students and I feel that I may have failed my students as their teacher. Yes, I said it, I FAILED my students.  My intent was not turn them off to reading, it was to help with the Summer slump that can occur with our students when they don’t engage their brains at some point. I have a hard enough time motivating my middle school students to read now. Though I see more positive in the last two years, than I ever have.

I asked my students to pick one chapter book to read and to find one non-fiction article to read.  In addition, I gave them a short writing assignment to help me see that they actually did do the reading.

I am really trying hard to become a better reading teacher and I thought this would be something that could help them.  I even celebrated our reading we did over the summer with a treat trying to make it a big deal that we read. In addition, I held drawings for our students to get free books that I bought out of my pocket.

I wasn’t feeling the excitement from my students and there is only so much dancing and singing I can do about books before my middle school students look at me really funny.  Regardless, I still give them that excitement every day! At this point, I want to know where do middle school students lose their interest in reading.  What experiences are they having to turn them off to reading?  I had them take a small survey and here is what I found.

1. Most students couldn’t recall a time where they were “turned off” to reading.

2. My students are more resistant to reading when they are “forced” to read something.

3. Students want choice (I knew this already, but it was still nice to see).

4. Students feel they don’t have time to read when they are in middle school.

So, I am left thinking that I killed my students with “making” them read over the summer.  In addition, how do I get middle school students to realize they do have time to read? I need to do something different, or do more.  Any feedback would be great! Whatever it may be, I am not going to give up on my students.

Cheers!