Yesterday two phenomenal events occurred. First, as many know, the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks with a foreword written by Liz Kolb was released yesterday. The out-pouring of support has been great. It feels awesome to finally have it out there where the world will be able to read our work.
Just when I thought I couldn’t have a better day yesterday, I had the most amazing conversation with my 8th graders about formal -vs- informal writing and texting. Our conversation started with the grammar template that is mentioned in our book. Below is a screenshot of that template with a link.
The students had a solid grasp on compound sentences as we reviewed them. When we talked about the texting portion of the template the conversation heated up! The class decided texting would be an informal space due to the simple fact that an abundance of their text messages are to their friends. As we broke down our mentor sentence from The Giver, students worked with partners to determine what the sentence would look like as a text message to a friend. That is when the nerdy teacher in me became fascinated. The students talked specifically about “Digital Talk” such as “Lol” -vs- “LeL” and “okay” -vs- “ok” or just “k”. I was super excited to hear them debate their language through texting.
I learned that students actually feel they know the tone of a text message that is being sent to them. For example, if someone just sends the letter “k” for “okay”, students automatically assume the person who sent them the text is upset with them. Now, I have had several conversations with students, teachers, parents, and other adults about how tone is hard to determine through writing a text message unless an emoji is attached or there are certain colorful words that are added. However, my students wholeheartedly believe that by not making the effort to type even one more letter for “Ok”, the person on the other end of the message is not happy.
As my 8th graders continued to talk and discuss their language, my smile became bigger as one of my students raised their hand and stated, “There are rules for how we text message back and forth with each other. It’s like we have our own language.” At this point I wanted shout out and say YES!
I contained my excitement and asked, “Does everyone know the rules?” It was agreed by most, if not all, that not everyone knows the rules that must be followed for texting. I found this rather interesting, so I probed deeper by asking, “Are all of the rules already established or are there more made up as time goes on?” I received many responses, but the ultimate conclusion I came to was there are new rules added as certain situations render new ones to be created.
Students continued to express their thoughts and opinions as we plunged forward with creating an effective text message for our mentor sentence but the fact remains ladies and gentleman; students have their own language and we can not take this away from them. Instead, we need to dive deeper into their world and figure out how our students function in all of their writing spaces. It was a magical day to hear my 8th graders talk about the way they write with tone, audience, language, etc. I am still processing our conversation and I am positive there is more to learn. It is such an interesting topic to keep thinking about. More soon!
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:
- What types of writing have you done this year?
- How many students do you have in your middle school?
- What sports can you play at your school
- What do you do for fun?
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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
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.