Grammar is Still Important

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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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Humility

Over the past several weeks the word humility has been swimming in my head. The sermon at church a few weeks ago was about humility. Humility is defined as being humble or one’s own thought of being important. Or even the amount of pride you might show.

I like to think of myself as being a humble person. I don’t like to shove my successes into other people’s faces or talk about my accomplishments much. For the most part, I feel I am humble.

I feel that I am a good teacher and I reach as many students as I can when I am in contact with them. On the other hand, as an author and a presenter, I also believe that I do my best. That isn’t me bragging, that’s just me being confident in what I do. I am also proud of what I do. Plain and simple, I love helping other people, especially teachers. If I have ever appeared to act otherwise, it isn’t done on purpose. Collaborating and working with other like-minded professionals is where it is at for me.

Unfortunately, there is still a struggle within me that I don’t let others see and it is me dealing with pride and humility. There is a deep desire within me to continue to be as successful as possible. I want the emails, the phone calls, and the guest blog posts. Yes, that part shows my lack of humility. What keeps me somewhat grounded is thinking about the costs which comes to the other parts of my life. More importantly, my own kids and the students in my classroom suffer as I try to better myself in a professional manner. I start to wonder if it is worth it and why does it matter. I also wonder at times why I don’t get more phone calls or requests to speak. After all, I am published and know what I am talking about. It’s a constant battle in my head and I am starting to become irritated.

Lately, I have set my sights not on what I can do for others or gaining glory, but more on making my students successful. No more worrying about the emails or phone calls. What happens…happens. I recently posted on Facebook that it was time to step-up my game and I meant it. I have been focusing on setting-up a new class website, researching digital tools that help my students be successful both in and out of the classroom, and studying more science curriculum as I begin my 2nd year as a science teacher.

I am refusing to let the battle rage on inside me. What is important is that I work hard for my students every day and not worry about things I can’t control. I will be thankful for the opportunities when they come my way and not let that part of my career control who I am. Today, I am more humble.

 

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Texting is a Language with Rules

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 Giverstudents 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.

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Picture Courtesy of http://www.keywordsuggests.com

 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!


From Texting to Teaching

Hyler & Hicks cover 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.

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(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.

 


I’m a Try Hard

Tshirt design

Last Friday, several of my colleagues were partaking in our normal Friday ritual after 2:00 where we gather in the hallway and discuss our week and what our weekends had in store for us.

My math colleague proceeded to tell all of us how he overheard some students what seemed to be criticizing others for being a”try hard”. They were referring to students who worked hard at school and on their assignments. One student even was quoted saying, “I don’t want to be a called a “try hard”. As our math teacher was sharing this story, I began to feel quite melancholy at first. Then, my emotions switched from being down to being furious.

Why has it come to a point where students will belittle one another for working hard and wanting to go somewhere in life? As a former varsity basketball coach, I know there is a lack of work ethic and putting time in order to be successful. It’s always the coaches fault or some other outside factor instead of the things that can be controlled. However, I find it disturbing that students might actually be encouraging it.

To see if this might be happening elsewhere, I consulted my 8th-grade niece. I asked her if a “try hard” or other words are uttered in the hallways and classrooms of her school. She didn’t even hesitate to utter the words, “No” as I discussed the scenario at my school.So, as I continued to think and reflect about the situation over the weekend, I wondered if it was the demographics of my school that would cause students to denounce working hard.

Are students really seeing benefits to not working hard? In some small way, I wonder if younger generations are seeing or hearing that it is acceptable to not work hard? I’m not convinced individuals don’t play the system so they can take advantage of not working while they still get what they haven’t worked for.

I am open to suggestion on how to combat such negative association with work ethic. I actually think this would be a great Twitter chat at some point.

Needless to say, I am saddened by what seems to be a form of bullying on students who have solid work ethic and actually give a damn about school. Also, because it appears that students could take things far enough for it to be bullying, it will need to be addressed on a wider scale. As a staff, we decided we were going to buy t-shirts similar to the one at the beginning of my post and wear them on Fridays.

As a staff, we are currently deciding if we were going to buy t-shirts similar to the one at the beginning of my post and wear them on Fridays.

Cheers!


Deal Me In

Once again I have been given the opportunity to be part of something that is much greater than myself. I am at the annual meeting for the National Writing Projoct (NWP) and as always, I am filling my brain to the brim with new ideas to take back to my students, colleagues, and school. My brain will overflowith.

Every year there is a plenary where members of NWP get to listen about the state of the writing project and where we have been and where we are going in the future. This year our director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl discussed where we should “double down” as teachers in certain areas and the importance of taking a stand for what we believe in. After all, it is through the narratives we write that gives us power and makes our story known.

As I thought about the gambling term “double down”, I began to think that most educators  do double down, don’t we? We do it because we care about our students and want them to succeed. Yes, there are educators who don’t go “all in” when it comes to their job or doing what is best for student. Let’s face it, we know at least one. Needless to say though, most of our hearts and minds have a passion for our career and our students.

This year has been odd for me, other than the new teaching assignment. I have struggled at times this year to the point where the environment that I was working in was having such a negative impact on me that I just wanted to stay home. Other days were fine, but for almost three weeks, I rode the struggle bus. As I began to reflect on my 1/2 hour drive home one afternoon, I knew I couldn’t give up on my students. My relationship with them was becoming very positive from where I was at with them last year as 7th graders. They drove me nuts. I knew that I had to be there for them and continue to walk with them in their journey through school and life.

I had a hard time leaving my students to come to this conference. We laugh, we learn, we get frustrated with each other. We are a family. As one of my writing project colleagues has said, ” The learning is in the struggle”.  A statement that couldn’t be more true for me right now, but I am starting to better understand what I need to do and it became more clear today while attending the conference.

So, being “all in” and thinking about the power of narrative reminds me our writing is what gives us a voice. On the other hand, I know I have to keep fighting for my students and not let a negative school culture give way for them having a negative teacher where they don’t want to go to class or have hope.

I will continue to use my voice in writing to help me be more positive for my students so they too can see there is hope with the right attitude and the right tools. I want to model for them that they too have a voice and can make a difference. Even when it is with their pen.
It’s time to stay positive!

It’s time to go to work!

It’s time to write!


Communication = ________

Second blog in a week! I almost forgot the power behind blogging. Trying to rock it out again this week.

Communication has been vital for hundreds of years. The way people communicate has changed drastically. From sending notes through the Pony Express to a note on a pigeon’s leg. Now, we have email, text messaging, and other forms of online communication that can essentially let us hide from having more intimate conversations with individuals.

Even though we have easier ways to communicate, face-to-face conversation seems to be quickly losing popularity or perhaps it already has been cast aside. Just recently I was astonished at my 8th grader’s reaction when I told them they couldn’t have cell phones on their upcoming bus trip to the fish hatchery for our Salmon in the Classroom project. It was as if I just told them I was going to cut off their arm or leg.

As I have pondered their reaction, I began to think about the communication that takes place in education and more specifically among teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

I am all for the use of technology in responsible ways and it has made our world easier to access the individuals that we need to get in touch with. In fact, we can’t blame technology for how our students learn today. The downfall to all the ways we can access people has caused a serious decline in building effective relationships with others. This just doesn’t fall on the teachers or the students either, it falls on everyone’s shoulder to get better.

When it comes to building positive relationships between administrators and teachers, it is easier for principals and superintendents to put out emails and videos. Videos can be created for staff meetings instead of trying to work around everyone’s schedule when it comes to coaching and other after school activities. However, unless there are face-to-face conversations taking place, those positive relationships are not being built. I am thankful that my principal not only has an open door policy but has the leadership to engage in conversations with the teachers in the hall and in their classrooms. He doesn’t just send emails to the teachers hoping they will read it and claim he is communicating with us.

In addition to administrators reaching out and building relationships with staff members, I feel we are at a critical time in education where school board members need to be having face-to-face conversations with not only teachers but with the community as well. Currently, what I am seeing, is little interaction between board members and community members. It seems to me that there is not a working relationship to make schools better between these entities. I know that this isn’t the case for all school districts and I don’t mean to offend those that have solid relationships. However, I am currently seeing it with my own eyes and not only has it had a negative impact on relationship building, there is a lack of respect among board members, teachers, and community members. So much, that people are starting not to care which has negative consequences on the students in the end.

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It is true that communication has changed drastically over the past 100 years. I feel it is more important than ever to talk with people and build relationships with them through everyday conversation, not useless emails, newsletters, or text messages. If we can do this as adults, we can definitely help our kids understand the importance of effective communication not only make them better citizens but help our schools become better places to learn.

What does communication mean to you?