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!

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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!


Why Student Feedback Makes Teachers Better

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!

 

 


“I Quit”

The first week of the new school year is in the books. Overall, I feel we are off to a good start and moving forward nicely.

This year I am really focusing on building relationships with the students during the first two weeks of school. The first day I only discussed one rule with my 7th graders; respect me and I will respect you. Then, we spent time in a circle sharing something about ourselves. I learned a few things about my students and they were excited it wasn’t going to be another class filled with rules.

As the week progressed, students read a short story, a memoir, and did some smaller writing assignments. Yesterday I did the Marshmallow Challenge with my 7th graders. If you have never done this with your students, I highly recommend this activity to witness your students problem solving skills and it is an activity that helps them develop their collaboration skills. The gist of the challenge is participants have 1 marshmallow, 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of string, and 1 yard of masking tape. They must create a free standing structure in 18 minutes with the last thing on top being the marshmallow. Tallest structure wins. I usually give the winning group suckers.

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I am always super excited about having my students participate in this activity…until yesterday. Needless to say I was very disappointed with not only how most of the students performed, but the number of times I heard:

“I quit!”
“This is hard.”
“I give up!”
“This is impossible.”

By the time my third section of 7th graders left my room for the day, I couldn’t help but shake my head and begin to worry about how my 7th grade students are going to perform this year. I was pleased with a number of the groups and the structures they built, but at times my coaching voice kept trying to creep to the surface of my throat and I had to keep pushing it back down. I would reply to the students by telling them that quitting and giving up in middle school is not an option.

I really worry about the work ethic and the perseverance that our students are lacking and it seems to be getting worse. I truly do believe in having compassion for students, but I also believe there are times they are going to have man up or woman up to the challenges that face them. I refuse to hold the hands of middle schoolers unless absolutely necessary. Middle school is a huge transition from elementary school and I will continue to encourage them to do their best and I will not accept mediocrity from my students.

As a society, we need to challenge our children to problem solve and not always lend a helping hand. After all, some of the greatest success’ does come from failure.


Killing Passion for Reading in March

March is over and another year has passed where elementary teachers have celebrated reading with “March is Reading” month.

I like a party as much as the next person. I love socializing, dressing up if there is a theme, and who can forget about the food. Okay, so I love eating! I don’t consider myself a party pooper by any stretch, but can you imagine trying to have a Hawaiian Luau for an entire month?  That is a lot of pineapple and roast pig!

The point I am trying to make is that I feel we are doing our students a disservice when it comes to “March is Reading” month. Every day, on the calendar sent home with my oldest,  is a different way for my child and his classmates to celebrate reading.  Whether it is wearing flip-flops or reading with an e-Reader, the idea is to motivate students to want to read and for them to be excited about it.  For 31 days students are asked to do something different in association with reading to make it feel fun.  Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning of this post, imagine going to a pig roast 31 days in a row.  After awhile, you are going to crave something different.

I want my students to be excited about reading, but if they have been repeatedly bombarded in elementary school every March for an average of 6 years, they may have a bad taste in their mouth by the time they reach middle school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors too.  Such as giving students questions at the end of every single chapter.  Something Kelly Gallagher calls Readacide

I don’t want to take just a month to focus on the importance of reading or to celebrate it. I want to celebrate it all year and motivate my students throughout the whole year and throughout their lives hopefully.

I have always been diligently trying to find when and how middle school students lose their passion for reading. I have been pestering my 8th grade students all year about why they don’t like reading and I get responses such as:

  1. They don’t have time
  2. Availability of resources in limited
  3. Being forced to read something that is not interesting
  4. March is reading month killed their love.

The last reason made me raise my eyebrow and let out a hearty, “really?”  However, it did make me think long and hard about “March is Reading” month that takes places in schools. I will admit, I don’t do a lot in the month of March as far as recognizing the month and the reading focus the month brings.  My students are reading and I still like to read to them because I feel it is important.

I am always open to new ways to get my students motivated to read, but I am not going to do overkill with my students. This is not an attack on elementary teachers or any other teachers.  I simply am asking that we should reflect on our practices and decide if what we are doing is best for students.


Fighting the Good Fight with Technology in the Classroom

Last Monday I had  a chance to present and talk with teachers at our local writing project site; the Chippewa River Writing Project. There were many great sessions where I took a ton of valuable information and resources away from the two sessions I attended. In addition, we had a spectacular Keynote speaker, Jim Fredricksen who is the author of  So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards). His ideas and thoughts on narrative are very thought provoking and have made me realize that it isn’t easy for students to write narratives.

My own presentation gave the teachers and pre-service teachers a sneak peek into the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks titled: Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools due out March 6th. As I discussed with the participants some of the digital tools I use in my own classroom, a very interesting question was brought to my attention.

  • What do we do when the technology director blocks sites that are useful to students and won’t open them?

It is a great question and though I don’t have the answer, I can offer some suggestions that may help with your argument for implementing certain sites or apps withing your everyday lessons.

  1. Access and read your school’s acceptable use policy.
  2. Have face-to-face conversations with your principal.
  3. Discuss with colleagues what you would like to do and see what they are thinking – perhaps they can add support for you.
  4. Analyze your current technology situation at school. Will students have access to computers, iPads, cell phones, tablets, etc.?
  5. Why? Why are you using the app or site for your given lesson?

It occurred to me after the teacher asked the question that if the time is taken to thoroughly read the acceptable use policy it can work to a teacher’s advantage when it comes to trying to implement technology.  I hear teachers from time to time stating that the acceptable use policy is what was their demise when it came to their idea to implement some type of technology.  Though there is no doubt this may be true, I would approach it is how can it help my case.

After looking over the acceptable use policy, I feel it is vital to have a well prepared conversation with your principal and other administration.  Thankfully, I have a principal and a superintendent that sees the benefit of technology and they both understand how students are learning today.  Remember this too, Technology directors aren’t the final line of trying to open up a digital too.  I have overwhelming respect for Tech directors and the very reason they may not be allowing a site or app to be available is because the school may not have the capacity. However, administration should have the final say and it should be a collaborative conversation between administration and the director. It shouldn’t be left up to just the director. Thankfully, I also have a great tech director at our school which makes it easy where I teach.

The final point I would like to elaborate on is the why.  Why are you using the tool?  How does it benefit the students? Furthermore, I want to direct you to the info-graphic below.

Technology Purpose2

I want to give credit where credit is due for this take on using tech in the classroom. However, because I have seen it on Google + and Twitter several times…I have lost where it originated. I want to go out on a limb and say this is NOT mine and I did NOT create it.  The point of the info-graphic is to not turn people off to Prezi, blogs, or Wordles.  I perceive it as something for us to think about and remind us that we shouldn’t use these tools for just the sake of using them because they are cool or the students think they are cool.

Student engagement is something we all want, but we should also keep the student at the center of our lessons and ask the question: How are my students going to benefit from using this tool and how is it going to be used to further their education?

Just some thoughts to consider when trying to fight the good fight on using technology in the classroom.

Cheers!


1 on 1 With Young Writers

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.

  1. Conference shouldn’t last any longer than 3-4 minutes TOPS
  2. Student finds one specific area in their writing that they want to discuss with me (This may vary depending on the assignment)
  3. Student discusses their strengths in the piece of writing.
  4. 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.

Cheers!