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.

 


Transitioning from Narrative to Informational

Pushing forward this time of year seems to be a slow process and transitioning from narrative to informational reading and writing can be a rather challenging task with 7th and 8th graders.

Previously my students just completed a 12 week journey with narrative reading and writing.  From memoirs, to This I Believe, and on to mysteries, my students did a lot of reading and writing in the narrative world.

With the narrative unit in the rear view mirror, it is time to emerge my students into the informational world.  Before I write about my introductory lessons for this unit I want to share with you some thoughts shared at a few conferences I have attended since last Spring.

Recently I returned  from Las Vegas and the NCTE conference. While there I listened to Kelly Gallagher speak about writing in his classroom.  He echoed the thoughts he had at the end of  his book Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts about great writing isn’t just narrative alone, informational alone, or argumentative alone.  Great writing should involve elements from all three or at least more than one.  Jeff Anderson said the same thing at a session I attended last year at MCTE.  While trying to motivate us as writers, he pointed to a book on the triangle fire and discussed with us how the book used both narrative and informational elements to reach the reader.

Now, I relay this information because I want educators to understand that though I spend a lot of time on separate units revolving around Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative reading and writing, I am also building on each unit as I enter the next.  For example, I began my unit by displaying some of the Common Core Standards.

  • (RL.7.1) Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

 

We discuss the idea that informational reading and reading is used to inform and explain a given topic. I tell my students they are going to hear the words inform and explain A LOT from me.

Then,  we generate a list together on a shared Google Doc where they see information reading or writing.  Below are a few items they listed:

  • Magazines
  • Letters
  • Newspapers
  • Internet searches
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

When the students were done adding to the list we took some time to talk about what type of information each of these genres were trying to inform or explain or what was the purpose.  I was very satisfied with the conversation that took place.

To help demonstrate to students(7th grade) that there are reading selections with both narrative and informational elements I chose the short story “The Green Mamba” by Roald Dahl.  When the students were reading it they completed a T-Chart with one side labeled Narrative qualities and the other side labeled Informational qualities.  If you visit the ReadWriteThink website you can find a really nice T-chart for the student to use. When students complete the T-Chart I have them listen to the short story on CD (RI.7.7) and they complete a short quiz about the selection.

I feel my students begin to understand how a reading selection can have both narrative and informational qualities by completing the T-chart and listening to the story again.  The short story serves as a quality transition piece for my students as we dive into informational reading and writing.

Today we discussed Facebook and the type of information the social media website portrays.  After taking a short survey with my 8th graders, about 80% of them have Facebook but do not visit their page that often.  Most 8th graders said they visit it once a week.  Most students who had access to it via mobile phone didn’t even check Facebook during school.  It makes me wonder if Facebook is on the way out.  Both my 7th and 8th graders are creating Facebook profiles on paper and then we are going to use those profiles to create a profile on Schoology, the social media website I use in my classroom.  More to come later!

Cheers!


Grammar, A Debate We Will Have Forever

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.

Cheers!