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!
Today I am both humbled and excited. Tomorrow my second co-authored book, from texting to teaching: grammar instruction in a digital age (Yes, I know the title is not capitalized, that was intentional) will be released to the world. Troy Hicks again, was my co-author and it was an interesting journey to write this book and bring it to educators.
Though I could never put myself in the same category with grammar greats like Jeff Anderson and Constance Weaver or even be published by giants like Heinemann or Corwin Press (No disrespect). Quite frankly, I am content where I am at with the work I have done. On the other hand, Troy and I have created a resource where teachers and educators can see some benefit to this book. Not only will educators see the historical struggle of how grammar has been taught, but also that the challenges teachers may face with technology today don’t really have to be challenges. Those challenges can be turned into opportunities for teachers to help their students see the difference between formal and informal writing spaces. Furthermore, students will have a greater appreciation for grammar when we use their spaces and work with them in the worlds they live in day to day.
(Image Courtesy of Ohio University Linguistics)
Grammar instruction will always be challenging and I am positive that others will develop new and exciting ways to reach the students they come in contact with every day.
It was a pleasure and challenge to not only write this book, but to write it with someone who has become one of my closest friends and colleagues. Troy continues to challenge me both intellectually and personally in ways that make me a better educator and person.
So, without further delay, we give you our book and hope you find some helpful information to improve your students understanding of grammar. Please let us know how we can further help you and please visit our companion site with the book.
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.
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!
All summer I have been writing in some capacity. I will be the first to admit, I struggle with grammar from time to time, but who doesn’t? Grammar has been a perplexing issue for language arts/English teachers for year and years. Some teachers may argue for a constant drill and kill approach, thinking the more that students do it, the better they will get at grammar. Other educators let their student’s writing do the talking and examine where their weakness lie in their writing, then they plan and teach accordingly. A balance of both approaches is also used in classrooms. Despite how you or your district take on the daunting task of hoping your students “get it”, I am here to tell you I don’t believe there is a magic spell out there for the proverbial lightbulb to click on instantly.
My lightbulb burns, at best, about as bright as lamp. Experts are argue time and time again that we as the writing teachers aren’t doing our job and students are falling further and further behind. Of course, these “experts” are examining standardized test scores as part of their conclusion, and I am not even going to go down that road. In addition, others believe the use of cell phone and social media is causing students to fall further and further behind because of their “text talk”. Read this post in Education Week and let me know and others what you think. I was outraged when I finished reading the post as were others that I have professional relationships with. It is one more way to blame technology for shortcomings on standardized testing. Articles such as this gives educators and districts more reason not to embrace technology. It is bad enough students aren’t getting more of a 21st century education and aren’t connected the way they should be. I am not saying technology is going to fix the grammar issues that seem to plaque our students.
What I want to say is I can remember all the way back to 8th grade when I had my orange grammar handbook. As a middle schooler, I was clueless from time to time when it came to things such as misplaced modifiers or using a semi-colon correctly. There were concepts I understood and there were some I did not fully grasp. I can also remember there were classmates that were way better at grammar than I was. Sound familiar? Yeah, the same thing we see with our students today. Are there better approaches to teaching grammar? My goodness gracious, yes! I encourage everyone to check out Jeff Anderson’s approach to grammar in his book Mechanically Inclined. I particularly like his express lane checkout approach to the writing his students do in Journals. There are other methods available too. Needless to say, our students aren’t going to be grammar experts by a long shot. Yes, they should be achieving at a certain level, but grammar takes years and years to master in my opinion. It isn’t going to happen over night and we need to stop whipping a horse that really hasn’t changed much over the years. Every year I am looking for new ways to engage my students with grammar as should anyone else. Some ideas work better than others, you just need to find what works for you and your class. Furthermore, being a writing teacher, means we need to write with our students and only then will our students start taking more of a vested interest in their writing and then maybe they will start listening to those grammar lessons we give.