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 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.
Recently I came to the conclusion middle school students need instruction on how to effectively reflect on their writing. I just got done handing back my 7th graders book reviews. My classroom is essentially paperless and they had to complete the assignment using Google Docs. As I grade papers, whether it is 7th or 8th grade, I make notes on the areas my students struggle with throughout the particular writing assignment. Throughout this assignment, students struggled with basic spelling, sentence structure, and capitalization. In addition, students struggled with one major concept with the review, which was the compare/contrast section of the review.
Upon returning the student’s papers I asked the students to have me help them. I was frustrated with them not following directions. After all, I am well into the second semester and I needed them to realize their mistakes were nothing more then following simple directions. When I asked them what I can do to make them more successful…silence. Why couldn’t my students reflect on their own writing, or even their own work so I could help them grow?
After discussing with a colleague who had taught English before, we both came to the conclusion middle school students don’t know how to reflect on their work. My students have writing portfolios, both physical and digital. in addition, I have given them reflection prompts for their past assignments, but in all honesty I feel confident my students are more or less going through the motions rather then thinking critically about their own writing and how they can make it better. The Common Core State Standards say very little about reflection, but it is essential for creating a more rigorous classroom and for students to evaluate their own learning.
So, what can we do as middle school English teachers to help students reflect on their writing? To be honest, I don’t have any solid answers. One strategy I have adopted for my students is for them to look at a specific comment I have placed on their document. Then, they need to rewrite the comment and complete some tasks on a pre-made template I hand out to students. Below are the tasks.
1. What was your initial response to the comment by Mr. Hyler?
2. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr.Hyler commented on.
3. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comment by Mr. Hyler.
4. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.
I am sure there are other ways for students to reflect on their writing. I am going to continue to research this important task that is vital for developing strong writers and strong students in general.
I have officially arrived at NCTE. As a first time Vegas guest, I must say it is crazy. My body has not transitioned to the time change and I am up at 5:00 a.m. working on my blog. A nap may be order later, but who knows with so many great sessions.
Speaking of great sessions, yesterday evening Barry Lane gave another one of his spectacular performances for NWP teachers. Though I didn’t attend earlier annual meeting sessions, my NWP peeps convinced me to peek in on what Mr. Lane was doing. If you have ever been to one of Barry Lane’s presentations, you know it is very entertaining and informative.
After laughing continuously and feeling energized as ever, he brought up the term “rigor”, which has been associated with the Common Core Standards since they have been released. Teachers are supposed to have more “rigor” in the classroom with the CCSS. When he asked a woman in a video what her definition of rigor was she stumbled and passed the buck on to her friends that she was standing with. Needless to say, their definition was less than perfect. So Mr. Lane put up the first six definitions of rigor from the dictionary. Here are a few of them!
1. Strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.
2. A sever or harsh act, circumstance, etc.
Does this sound like something we should be infusing into our classrooms? Barry Lane had a few other definitions from the medical dictionary too. One medical definition is, shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill. Again, do we really want to be teaching something like this in our classroom? Tom Romano was even in a video where he said rigor is the sister of mortis. I cracked up on that one.
Instead of “rigor”, Mr. Lane said we should be teaching “vigor” instead. I couldn’t agree more, especially after seeing that definition
1. Healthy physical or mental energy or power; vitality.
2. Force of healthy growth in any living matter or living organism.
Perhaps the two are easy to confuse. I know that vigor sounds much more appealing and attainable in my classroom. I also know “rigor” can occur in my classroom too and if I adhere to the definition, my students are going to get turned off as learners. Can there be a balance of both? What are your thoughts?
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.
So it has been a few days since any real thoughts came across my brain concerning my teaching or my classroom. Besides being really bummed about not attending NCTE this year, I have been critically thinking about grammar and how to teach it with meaning in the classroom. Grammar and how it should be taught has been an ongoing discussion in our monthly department meetings. Last Spring we took action and ordered Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined. Over the summer we met and had our own book club with our department. Anderson’s book is written really well and if you haven’t heard him speak, you need to make it your first choice the next conference you attend where he is speaking. I love his sentence strip activity, the idea of bringing mentor text into the classroom to show students how writers use appropriate grammar in their writing, and how he has students set up their writers notebook. My favorite idea is AAAWWUBBIS. The idea behind this bizarre but adequate saying is to help students remember subordinating conjunctions and for students to have a way to remember different ways a complex sentence can be formed. There are many other ways Anderson explains how grammar can be taught efficiently in the classroom. I really liked the fact he said that students will show you what they need to work on. I agree with this and I also think that students need a certain amount of practice too. With the Common Core being implemented this year into my district it is pretty well spelled out what needs to be taught at each grade level when it comes to grammar. It isn’t set in stone, but it is much more definitive than what our State curriculum presented to us in the past.
However an English teacher looks at it, there probably isn’t a magic method to teach grammar. I use some methods introduced in Anderson’s book and I try other strategies that I have picked up in the past. Regardless of what I do, or what anyone does, I think it truly does depend on the group of students you have from year to year. I love my students this year; both my 7th and 8th graders. They have made it easy to try new teaching methods in my classroom. One of my 8th graders today said, “Mr.Hyler, this is the first time this year you have given us a worksheet!” I smiled and replied, “Yes, and I am sorry.” Believe it or not, it was a grammar exercise. Though I don’t pride myself on delivering worksheets to my students and I never will, it was necessary for them to have some practice today to make sure they were brushed up in their skills.
I believe grammar will continue to perplex even the most brilliant language arts teacher and I also believe we will continue to not only develop new ways to teach grammars in our classrooms, but we also revisit some old methods as well. After all, I taught my students to diagram sentences last year and I know one our high school teachers did the same earlier this year.