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!
As I finished out the Chippewa River Writing Project’s (CRWP) Summer Institute for the first time as a co-director, I had the opportunity to give feedback to my group members that I worked with for almost four weeks. As we sat on my colleagues couches and bar stools, I started to think about authentic assessment and what the definition of authentic assessment actually is in relation to what I was doing with CRWP participants as well as what I do with my students on a yearly basis.
Realizing I hadn’t given much thought to authentic assessment, I started doing some digging. In the past I had focused more attention on formative -vs- summative assessment. As I begin researching the idea of authentic assessment, I knew that I needed help from someone who was familiar with assessments and had vested time with the subject at hand. I emailed a writing project colleague and friend Scott Filkins (@scottfilkins). Scott is the author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (Principles in Practice). He has also worked with students in grades 6-12 and works with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) on the ReadWriteThink resources.
When I emailed Scott I asked him to direct me towards some resources on authentic assessment. Scott replied with a few questions that I had never considered before and therefore plunged me further into thinking about authentic assessment. Scott asked:
“Do you mean assessment that’s true assessment in the sense that it’s embedded in the ongoing work of the local classroom ecology and truly shapes a teacher’s understanding of a kid and what’s next for him or her? Or do you mean the kind of authentic assessment that’s like project based where the kids are doing something “authentic” with reading/writing/literacy?”
Both questions were spectacular in regards to how broad I began my thinking. As I thought about the questions, I knew that I was thinking more along the lines of students doing something “authentic” with literacy. After all, that is what participants of the Summer Institute had completed for us to review.
On the other hand, I was also thinking authentic assessment was the type of feedback we give students when we grade their assignments. I sat down and took approximately 3 1/2 hours to give solid feedback to four individuals. I didn’t fill out a rubric or grade a multiple choice test. I was giving each person what I felt was valuable feedback on the pieces they created during their time of the Summer Institute. Feedback that was going to help them become better writers and teachers.
The more I thought about it and read some of the great resources Scott Filkins had shared with me, I started to realize that authentic assessments and authentic feedback are two different things. They weren’t the same. However, we can’t give students authentic feedback unless we give them authentic assessments. By giving our students more authentic assessments we can then make better decisions about curriculum and more effectively communicate with our students about their learning. Therefore, making them better learners and helping them understand where they are and where they need to go!
As a result of my research and help from awesome colleagues like Scott Filkins, I will reflect more about the assessments my students complete this school year and the feedback I give to them.
First, I want to say thanks for all of my new followers here on my blog. I am trying hard to write more this school year. It is hard to believe my third week of school is over already.
This year as a staff we decided we wanted to follow a universal format for our students to write summaries. I presented the idea last year to our staff and it was accepted with open arms by everyone. To me, this was another proving point for me that as language arts teachers we need to be willing to reach across the isle and help other colleagues who aren’t so comfortable teaching students reading and writing skills. We decided to follow a format called TDPP, which comes from Get It Done! Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Jim Fredricksen.
T – Cite the Topic
D – What are the key Details
P – How are the details are Patterned
P – What is the Point made about the topic of those patterned details
The social studies teacher and I have been working closely together to help students become better readers and writers over the past year by doing article of the week, working on a Civil War Research paper together and just making sure we are on the same page when it comes to teaching our students reading strategies. Working together has been phenomenal and because of our collaboration, our students are learning more and becoming better readers and writers.
This year as the TDPP process was being reintroduced to our 8th graders, who have already seen it for a year, the Social Studies teacher had a great conversation with the students about how to make the process easier and the students gave some remarkable feedback that was shared with me. As we discussed our students feedback on the process, it occurred to us that we needed to make some changes in the process and our approach to teaching it to help our students be more successful when writing summaries. Below are the changes that we made.
T – Cite the Topic
M – Describe the Main Ideas that support the topic (3 main idea sentences for 8th grade, advance 7th graders as the year progresses)
P – Explain what Point is being made by the main ideas
P – Wrap-uP sentence
We made the changes because the 8th graders vocalized that they were getting confused with the Details part of the TDPP process as well as the last two P’s because they almost felt they were the same. Now, we didn’t want students copying down specific details from the articles they are reading so we changed the D to an M. When discussing this with students it was helpful to talk about a grocery list and how we write down what we want, which are main ideas, but we don’t write down specific brands, which are details. It helped the students make the difference between the two.
To us, we felt the students were taking charge of their learning and we were moved by the fact they were asking questions, engaged, and willing to take an active role in their education. This reflection and feedback not only allowed our students to perform better on a concept that can at times be difficult for even college students to write, but it gave us insight into how we were teaching the students and it made us better teachers.
Personally, I am really excited how much the 8th graders have grown and retained from last year. I am excited to see where the year takes us!
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.
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.
- Conference shouldn’t last any longer than 3-4 minutes TOPS
- Student finds one specific area in their writing that they want to discuss with me (This may vary depending on the assignment)
- Student discusses their strengths in the piece of writing.
- 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.
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!