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.

texts-k

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!

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Mobile Devices: A Teachers Responsibility

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.

Cheers!


Celly and the Common Core Standards

This post has been long overdue.  I wanted to outline the connections I can make to the Common Core Standards (CCSS) with Celly.  Below I have chosen three strands from the CCSS that I use with Celly.  Each strand is followed by what I do in my classroom and what I hope my students take away from it.  Though these aren’t the only strands I can connect to, this is where I started at the beginning of the year.

1.)  8.W.6 – Production and Distribution of Writing: Use technology, including the internet to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

With the Common Core calling for teachers to use technology in their classroom, this is an easy connection to make.  Celly is internet based and requires students to use technology (a.k.a. – cell phones).  One of the greatest benefits of this digital tool is the fact students can interact and collaborate about ideas presented either by the teacher or other students.  One of the ways my 8th graders are going to collaborate is to discuss their ideas about alternate endings for The Giver by Louis Lowry.  Then, after discussing their ideas, they will extend their ideas by working on an alternate ending using Google Docs.

2.)  8.W.2 – Text Types and Purposes: Write informative/explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
This strand is the most common strand I use when connecting Celly to the CCSS.  A simple example can be using Celly one day a week in your classroom in place of an every day journal writing in a composition notebook.  The big difference between the students using their cell phones instead of their journals is they can collaborate a lot easier and respond to multiple students who are using Celly.  Many times I might give students a topic to think about and to just write down their ideas about it.  Celly has helped generate some great classroom discussions and has helped create that safe writing community where students can share and feel like their ideas are valued and accepted.
3.) 8.L.2 – Conventions of Standard English: Demonstrate the command of the conventions of standard English, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
     This is an easy one, at least for me.  Today there is a lot of debate over how texting has influenced students and the way they write.  Teachers complain about how they find text “lingo” in the papers their students are turning in for a grade.  For example, students might write “u” instead of “you” or they might not capitalize “i”.  Regardless of what the students might do, the overall lesson goes back to teaching our students how to be digital citizens and modeling for them when it is acceptable to use their “lingo”.
     I make it very clear to my students there is nothing wrong with using a text language, they just need to know the difference between formal and non-formal writing.  It could be argued that using cell phones and a platform such as Celly is non-formal.  I disagree because I believe it is up to the teacher how they want to use Celly.  To help my students define the differences, I require my students to use formal writing when we use Celly.  I often give them a grade for their written responses and if they are not following the conventions of Standard English, they lose points.
Cheers!

Cellular Division

As my regular followers know, I am passionate about using cell phones as a digital tool in my classroom.  In addition, I have really enjoyed exploring Celly in my classroom, a texting platform that allows my students to communicate through text messaging on their cell phones.  What is really nice for me as a teacher who teaches in a low-income, rural district, Celly allows my students to use smart phones and “dumb phones”.

My intention of this blog post is not to discuss Celly or how I am specifically using cell phones in my classroom.  I want to put something out there that I am passionate about.  Over the past several days as I have been doing research for some writing I am doing on cell phones, I came across several articles, blogs, and comments about cell phones being used in the classroom.  In my readings and observations I am still seeing a huge number of educators taking on a negative attitude towards the use of cell phones in the classroom. Now, I am a language arts teacher and I want to tell everyone that reads this, I am still focusing on making my students better writers.  Yes, it is true, I don’t always have my students writing with paper in pencil in my classroom.  Why is this so bad?  I am still helping my students grow as writers and I am using digital tools to help them achieve confidence as writers and my students are engaged.  Yes, I truly believe we are seeing a paradigm shift from paper/pencil to laptops and cell phones. What I embrace the most is the use of cell phones while connecting the Common Core Standards.  Things change and in this instance, I believe it is a change we need to embrace if we want to reach our students. My students see my genuine excitement for writing and know I am not abandoning paper and pencil. In addition, I am not asking any other educator to stop using the typical writing tools in an language arts classroom.  As a matter of fact, my students write in a journal daily using a composition notebook and pen or pencil and enjoy it. But, that is a whole separate blog post.

Though not everything I have read is completely negative, I see a lot of apprehension and excuses emerging from educators shifting in this new direction.  Teachers are afraid by using cell phones in their classroom they are going to open up a pandora’s box of problems where they will never get their students to put the cell phone away when they are not using it or supposed to be using it.  Bottom line, this comes down to classroom management.  Yes, it is possible to build a community of writers with cell phones.  I have not had one issue with my 7th/8th grade students this year and their cell phones.  As a matter of fact, my students are constantly asking permission to use their cell phones in my classroom.  My students and I have a mutual respect for one another when it comes to their cell phones and what my expectations are in the classroom.  I have built this community within the walls of my classroom and I have taught my students how to be digital citizens and this citizenship carried over to other classes too.

On the other hand, I also am learning there is apprehension from teachers because of the current policies their schools have in place.  The thought is if the policy states students can’t use them in school or they are supposed to be in their lockers, they can’t use them in their classrooms.  Well, my school policy echoes the idea that students should keep their cell phones in their locker, but I use them in my classroom.  It starts with having an open communication with you and your administration.  If you haven’t had a conversation with your principal about the possibilities cell phones can bring to your classroom, then you have no room to complain about your school’s policy on cell phones.

Bottom line, there is a “cellular divide” that is going to continue to exist due to the strict policies, apprehensiveness, and the overall refusal to change the methods being used in the classroom.  Educators need to see the benefits and the power that digital tools such as cell phones can have in the classroom and on the students.  I may be only one of the few who believe in the benefits, but I am willing to do the convincing.

Cheers!


Cell Phone Policies

Okay now that I have somewhat of a routine down with our newest family member, it is time to empty this brain of mine. For those of you who read my blog, prepare for a wave of blog posts this week and next. My brain needs some major dumping and blogging is where it is at!

Recently my principal asked me for my input on our districts cell phone policy. Since the second half of last year, I have been using cell phones in my classroom from time to time as a digital writing tool. This year it has really taken off with the use of Celly. As a result of engaging my 21st century learners and knowing that today’s “screenagers” are “wired”, my principal is looking to make a change. On the other hand, the misuse of cell phones is another cause for my principal to re-examine our policy. It is not just misuse by the students either, it is misuse by the adults, the so called professionals. Now, I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to checking my phone to see who texted me or emailed me. However, to check my phone and to be on it for an extended amount of time, is different. Just sayin!

Though I have not sent anything in writing to my principal, I have been diligintly thinking about how a school district can find a perfect balance between discipline and usage in the classroom when drafting a cell phone use policy. Some questions to ponder are: Does a school district involve parents when trying to determine a policy? If it takes a community to raise a child, shouldn’t we at least consider what parents have to say with the clear understanding that the school board, administrators, and teachers have the final say? Second, what about the student’s input? In my opinion, students are going to abide by a policy if they are the ones that helped construct it. Obvisously you can’t have every student participate. I think starting with a small survery for students about the use of cell phones in a school setting would be an excellent start. On the other side of the coin, consulting teachers and support staff about changing the policy will provide any district with a substantial number of people who can help develop and draft a policy.

With the help of many different people, I believe it is vital to think about appropriate times students can use a cell phones. In addition, we need to consider the appropriate times adults can use cell phones. Composing a list of safe digital sites associated with cell phone use can help ensure teachers such as myself that cell phones can continue to be used in the classroom as a digital tool. Then, there is the issue of consequences for those students and teachers who do not abide by the rules. Many schools confiscate phones for a day or contact parents. Whatever the punishment, it should be enforced and students, as well as teachers, should clearly understand their boundries.

With all this being written, I may be leaving some things out. I am certain that I am. However, I just want to make everyone think about the current policies in place at their school/district. I strongly believe that a policy, like a piece of writing, is never finished. It will continue to be a work in progress and should be revisted before the start of every school year to be revised. I am confident a majority of schools will be revising their cell phone policies in the future for the good of the cause. If your school doesn’t have a policy and you don’t know where to start, consult school districts around you to see what they have in place and use theirs as a stepping stone.

Cheers!


Classroom Contraband or Social Segway?

Since the beginning of the school year I have been using cell phones in my classroom as a way to help connect my students with technology and to use as a worthwhile digital writing tool.  Notably, I have written about a social platform called Celly in past blogs and how I believe it can be used for middle school or high school classrooms.  Lately I have been giving a lot of thought about cell phones and their place in schools and the classroom.  As a teacher, parent, and writer I try to look at the use of cell phones from several different perspectives.

To begin, controversy has been surrounding school policies on cell phones for the past several years.  Recently a local paper wrote an article about how local schools are embracing technology and trying different digital tools such as tablets, cell phones, and laptops. The one section of the article discusses how policies are becoming more liberal and students are able to use their cell phones between classes without punishment.  Administrators and school boards are looking more closely at their current policies and trying to decide how to change it without students taking advantage of the policy. For example, students might be able to cheat or use their phone to cyber-bully with access to social media. School districts need to look deeper into the use of cell phones by students.  School districts need to allow students and teachers to use them in their classrooms, not just in the hallways.  One teacher in the article is quoted as saying he felt cell phones were still a distraction in the classroom, but he sometimes allowed students to send him pictures. I have to question this teacher’s thought process. Even if a school district is allowing students to access their cell phone, a teacher can not put themselves in danger by allowing students to send pictures to them.  Practices in the classroom such as this can and are giving the use of cell phones in an educational setting a bad rap.  Integrating a technology such as a cell phone into a specific lesson will garnish more positive feedback and lead to more teachers, parents, and school districts being willing to look at their policies and be more inclined to change them for a 21st century learner.

Besides reading and thinking about school policies on cell phones, there is something to be said about students using mobile devices in a classroom and more students being willing to participate. Back in May of 2011, The New York Times published an article on Social Media and using it to generate more classroom discussion.  Could using cell phones and social platforms like Celly be a way to get reluctant students to participate or are we encouraging students to be less confrontational?  I am really on the fence about this discussion.  There is a part of me as a teacher that really likes to see a student squirm when asked to bring their voice into a discussion.  The moment that a student is uncomfortable is a moment where a student grows and it disciplines us as a teacher to not bail them out of a tough situation.  Teachers see cell phones and social media as another distraction to students, rather than a tool where it could help students participate.  I disagree with this based on my own experiences with my own students.  The one day a week we use Celly and our Wiki space, my students are not cruising the internet or texting their friends.  They are genuinely on task and there are thoughtful conversations taking place amongst members of the class.  The only time I ever see my students playing games or surfing Youtube is if they finish their task early and when I ask my students to take care of their phones, I never have to ask twice.  In the The New York Times Article, a student mentioned how he viewed his classmates as more intelligent and he could understand them more deeply.  I am not sure using a social media tool can lead to deeper thinking.  I believe that can be continued research on all of our parts.  On the other hand, I do think we could reach students who are shy, afraid to ask questions in front of their peers, and students who genuinely have trouble expressing their ideas verbally.  These are the students we try and poke and prod all year and barely get anything out of them when it comes to a classroom discussion.  So, is bringing digital tools that are social into the classroom bridging a communication gap?  Could Twitter or Edmodo help students and teachers have more in depth conversation about a given topic?  Currently there are still a lot of people who doubt the use of such technologies in the classroom.  In addition, there are educators, like myself, who utilize technology in the classroom and relate it to the current curriculum that is in place.

I encourage everyone to read the articles and form your own opinion, but to also keep an open mind to our 21st century learners.

Cheers!