Grammar is Still Important

giphy

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. 😉

 

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TL Handy Middle School PD

TL Handy Middle School PD.


Reflections of a Middle School Teacher

Ahhh! Yup, school is out for the Summer. At the start of every year I tell my students that we need to treat each other as if we are family. AND… just like family we will get sick of each other and bicker, pick, and get tired of each other’s habits. Well, I can honestly say we were at the edge. It was time for us to part ways and have a break. My students were ready and I was ready too.

It was an exciting year for me professionally. The book Create, Compose, and Connect Troy Hicks and I wrote was published, another book I contributed to is coming out very soon, and I am working on a book with some really great educators from all levels right now. In addition, I had the opportunity to present at some excellent conferences here in Michigan. I also felt I did a better job as a reading teacher, but I still have a long ways to go to consider myself stellar.

Looking back on this past school year has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand I feel as if the students completed a lot of writing and dug pretty deep into some reading throughout the year. On the other hand, I struggled with students retaining information as we made connections later on in the school year. My colleagues struggled with this as well and at times it was very exhausting to get students to make connections from earlier lessons.

As a middle school staff, I feel that we grew more this year and we are continuing to keep the students at the center. We are striving everyday to do what is best for them. In particular I worked more closely with our S.S. teacher on doing article of week, a historical research paper, and we worked on a written report for our Salmon in the Classroom Project. You can see where we were featured on Michigan-Out-of-Doors. You can see us around the 20:00 minute mark.

 

The Social Studies teacher and I  are starting to mutually appreciate each other’s strengths and I know our professional relationship will continue to grow. This year I really tried to be patient with all staff members and recognize their strengths when I could.

Besides trying to build more positive relationships with all of my colleagues, we will have a schedule change for next year, which is positive. We will now have about 60 minutes per class to teach. I am very excited about this because when our S.S. teacher figured it out, we are actually getting one extra class period per week when all of the extra minutes are added together. Prior to this we only had about 52 minutes per class.  I feel that my class discussions around different text we are reading or the different genres we are writing will be deeper and the students will have the opportunity to do more critical thinking. Feeling rushed to get through material could potentially fall to the wayside if all goes well (snow days could hinder this).

In addition to having more time with students, our principal made a push to put a more solid curriculum in place. Our monthly early release meetings can at times be a joke. In the department I co-chair we work hard to keep moving forward and we have done some tremendous work with the CCSS Anchor Standards, but from what I have heard from other departments, participants were using the time to shoot the bull and grade papers. At times when we have met as a whole district, it has irked me to see fellow teachers also grading papers.

This past year, it was proposed that there is a more solid focus on developing curriculum maps, pacing guides, and establishing what is important in concerns with the anchor standards. Though this was received well at our district improvement meeting, time wore on, and there were some complaints about what we needed to accomplish within our departments. My big question is why? Why are questioning what should be in place already.  We can’t just adopt the CCSS and say that is our curriculum. Personally, I am glad we are being asked to do this. Yes, I am willing to take time over my Summer break to make my teaching better and do what is best for students.

Overall, I am glad this year has come to a close. There are many aspects of my teaching that I am going to change. I am also spending the Summer reading some professional texts on how to become a better reading teacher. Summer is not a time to be lazy, it is time to think about our instructional practices and what we are going to do to help our students succeed. However, a few beverages are nice too!

Cheers!


Digital Literacy Summer Institute Day #2

I can’t write a short enough post to discuss every nugget of information I gained from the second day of the Digital Literacy SI. So, I will explain one idea that hit home with me as we proceeded through the morning/day.

Thinking about the lessons that are created within a given classroom, I want to pose the same question that was given to us. What drives our planning process?  Is it our own agenda?  Perhaps the content or curriculum (no, couldn’t be)? The amount of time we have to teach the lesson? Okay, I could go on and on here and to be quite honest, I have planned lessons around all of the above mentioned. This is where you shake your finger at me, right?

So, what about planning with the learner in mind? Yes, keeping the learner might seem to be a no-brainer.  Duh!! Well, it wasn’t to me.  I will be honest, I am not completely lost here, I have done it from time to time.  However, consistently keeping them in mind, I have failed myself and my students.

As our facilitators discussed how to frame our inquiry project, they included the idea of the TPACK model.

tpack

A great reading resource for the TPACK with reading and language arts is by Spires, Hervey, and Watson.

How many times do we focus our planning more on the content or the curriculum instead of the student?  In my opinion, I feel we are driven by our curriculum and our given content most days, if not every day. In addition, I know I feel pressed for time and have structured my lessons in such a way that I knew I could get my students to their next class on time. Pointless, if you think about the fact there is not any deeper learning taking place.

So, I wonder what others think about this. For me, I know that I will go back into the lesson plans I have already written and restructure them to best meet the needs of my students and create future lessons with the student as my main focus. Thoughts?

Cheers!

 


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?

CCSS Does Not Mean an S.O.S.

It feels good to take on a different format of writing with me writing this blog, I am not going to lie.  It has been over a month since my last post.  I have been extremely busy writing the book and submitting other pieces for publication.  The good news is that I feel as if the home stretch is here or at least near.  Recently, I have been doing more reading on the Common Core State Standards and simply listening to people have discussions on the curriculum as a whole.  After listening to some teachers rant and rave, completing some reading that left me shaking my head, I can’t help but ask anyone who is willing to listen, what is all of the complaining about, really?

I want to begin by mentioning how my state (Michigan) and some other states are trying to now “back out” of implementing the CCSS. Why you may ask?  Quite simply the fear of losing local control or state control of schools or so it appears that way.  This is one place I shake my head from side to side.  Let’s be rational here, the federal government is not trying to take over our schools. Let’s think about what one of the reasons the CCSS was developed.  One of the reasons was to have consistency within schools on what is being taught. Does it have higher demands for students? Yes sir! Is it going to be more work on our part as teachers? Yes ma’am.  Not once have I ever thought the Common Core was designed for a hostile government take over of any school.

Next, I want to address the parent (of a different school from where I teach) who threatened to take their 3 children out of the school their children attend if the teacher or district tried to use the Common Core as the curriculum.  I will be honest with you, I didn’t react to the parent in a hostile manner when I was listening. I just listened.  After their ranting and demoralizing of the CCSS, I asked one question.  What do you not like about the Common Core?  Their answer: It is too hard for my children and too demanding.  On the inside, I was screaming, but on the outside, I politely said thank you for sharing your concern.  To me, their response summed up why I see the work ethic I do today of some students, including the ones that I teach.  Some students (and parents) don’t understand they have to work hard in school!  It isn’t just about socializing or sports.  Furthermore, those students who may struggle a little, are probably going to have to work even harder. Wow and yes that does suck! Should I be teaching work ethic in my class too? Oh wait, I think I do!

Now, I am not saying the CCSS does not have flaws, because it does.  However, I really like what the Common Core is trying to do for our students.  Here are just a few things I notice:

  • Engages our students with more informational text.
  • Causes our students to have higher level thinking skills.
  • Consistency across states with curriculum.
  • The ability for flexibility on how we teach the skills that need to be met.
  • Students get engaged in all 3 genres (narrative, informational, argumentative.

While I notice the positives of the CCSS, the one gripe I will make public here is the little it says about students reflecting on their own work. Reflection is key for student improvement in whatever they do. As a matter of fact, it is a life skill that is essential for growing as an individual. I have to constantly reflect all the time on how to do a better job with my students.

With that being said, I can strongly say the CCSS is not going away anytime soon.  Though we don’t have to embrace it like a big fluffy teddy bear, it is no reason to toss out the emergency S.O.S. life belt.

Cheers!

 


Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!