*This blog post does not reflect the views of my school or anyone working within my school.
Professional development (PD) should be the cornerstone for anyone looking to better themselves no matter what career they choose. Educators seem to be at the forefront when it comes to attending PD. We are a profession that is constantly trying to make ourselves better and in some instances told we have no choice but to attend certain professional development because we cannot be licensed to be a teacher without a set number of hours of PD or college credits to match.
Since starting my teaching career over 16 years ago I have slowly and steadily watched professional development make the proverbial dive out of the sky as if it is an airplane that is slowly losing one engine at a time. Teachers aren’t going and the quality of PD isn’t always top notch. For me, I am lucky because I have had the privilege of being on both the delivery side of PD and the receiving end through work with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Through many conversations with colleagues and like-minded educators, I have come to a few conclusions as to why professional development is facing a potential breaking point for teachers and educators.
First, professional development is expensive. Many school districts used to help their teachers out and help pay for professional development. With constant cuts to per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and other funding like Title II being cut, teachers are forced to pay for PD out of their own pockets. If you add up the cost of the conference, potential hotel expenses, gas, and meals. Teachers can potentially be looking at costs between $500-$1000 depending on the type of conference. Please don’t think I am complaining about what teachers make either. I am simply saying therepotentially is a lot of out of pocket costs to absorb.
Besides the financial burden of professional development, I feel there is low-quality PD being offered by our Intermediate School District (ISD) where multiple schools belong. They do a poor job of helping teachers. Our ISD is supposed to support and develop teachers and their skills. That is not happening. I do see them helping our new teachers, but that is it. I hear too much from their end about the high cost and poor attendance, etc. Why is it then that our ISD sits on almost 3 million dollars, but can’t offer quality experiences for teachers? I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I know it is within my ISD. They are not the only entities to blame for quality PD, but when considering the types of professional development that can be low cost or free for teachers, this is good place to start.
Now, put aside financial burden and quality of PD and the issue of teacher burnout existing. I never really gave much thought to teacher burnout until I was talking to a very close friend and colleague about why teachers are not participating in PD. He discussed that fact that teachers plates are becoming increasingly full. With reduced staff in schools, teachers are being asked to do more and more. When teachers prioritize what they need to do and get done, PD seems to be at the bottom of the significant list of items. I think of PD like a salad. We know it’s good for us and it can make us better or healthy. However, we just want to skip it and get to the main course or the main items on our plates. We don’t have time or the need to mess with the salad. I have even witnessed teachers turn down a professional development package that was worth over $1000 and all it would cost them is gas money to travel.
All of this lends itself to rethinking how professional development should be delivered to teachers. Yes, there are many online PD opportunities, but are they better than face-to-face? Is true collaboration taking place with online spaces? I do have a passion for the 4T Conference which is truly phenomenal. So, to say that all online PD is low quality is not a fair assessment. I do not have the answers and I am sure others don’t agree with what I am writing. On the other hand, I do feel it is time to rethink how PD is being done and what we can do to help teachers in this area.
(Image Courtesy of Johnson County Community College http://blogs.jccc.edu/2017/08/11/professional-development-days-fall-2017/)
Imagine with me, that it is a beautiful August evening that isn’t blazing hot and it is 8:00 p.m. Along with that beautiful setting, you see that there is going to be a Twitter chat about Grammar. I’m assuming most people will find better things to do. That particular setting wasn’t fiction, it was real and led me to another wonderful opportunity to lead the #miched chat with my co-author Troy Hicks on the topic of grammar.
Miched is the hashtag for Michigan educators and many others from across the nation to chat on Twitter about certain topics. Last Thursday was part of the Michigan author series that is taking place throughout the month of August. Dr. Hicks and I released the book From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age for which the conversation revolved around. After introducing the history of grammar at the beginning of our book, we discuss strategies for grammar instruction while incorporating technology.
During our conversation, the importance of grammar was challenged. The question came up from one of the participants about, “Is grammar really viewed as being important anymore?” This question really started to eat away at me after reflecting and processing what the question was truly asking. That particular question was discussed for at least ten minutes. With keeping that question in mind I started to think back to the many times I visit my local news website and see news articles riddled with grammar errors. Honestly, does anyone proofread these articles? Last year, I sent a short email to my local news station about an article I read and respectfully pointed out two errors. Though I wasn’t expecting a response, I wanted them to know that I am a teacher and I want authentic examples for my students to see and use. It was disheartening to see such poor writing skills from professionals.
By the end of the day, those “professionals” emailed me back. Instead of owning up to their mistakes and potentially saying they will do better next time, they pushed the blame onto the Associated Press. Hmmm, okay…did anyone read the story before just clicking a few buttons to throw it on their website? I’m guessing it was no one. I will also go out on a limb and say the news station wanted to be the first one locally to get the story up and out to viewers no matter if it was riddled with errors or not.
So, getting back to question of is grammar losing its importance, I am still leaning towards no. Do certain entities put less emphasis on grammar? Absolutely. For examples, there are companies such as Sarah Lee (Double Negative in their slogan) that use poor grammar to advertise their product. It does not mean that we should abandon the use of proper grammar or place less importance on it.
What it does mean is that we are going to have to dig deeper for more positive, yet accurate uses for our students and children. It also means we need to model proper use of grammar more frequently and show our students real world application. Finally, it means we need to push back against the improper use of grammar and maintain that it is an important part of English Language Arts. Just don’t offend anyone when you correct their grammar. 😉
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 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.
(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.
Ever since I was little, I have enjoyed Christmas break. When I was growing up, I lived across the street from my elementary school and break meant hours of playing in the mountains of snow that were piled up from the plows clearing the snow. Often when my friends and I got done, hot chocolate was waiting for us to warm our chilled bones.
Christmas break also brought about hours of independent reading for me. I was very fortunate that I had both a mother and father who read. My mother read more frequently when it came to novels. I can remember many nights hearing her book hit the floor when she fell asleep while reading. It wasn’t easy being a full time mom, working and trying to squeeze in some time to read.
Often times, one of my best friends and I would buy each other books for Christmas. Most of the time it was about ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or other creatures of the night. No matter what I received though, I had it read by the time Christmas break was over.
Now that I am a father, I do my diligence to demonstrate to my own children that reading is a good thing. Wait, scratch that…it is a GREAT thing! I love reading to my pre-school child and I always drop what I am doing when he comes to me with a book. My daughter doesn’t need any prompting. She is a 2nd grader reading at a 5th grade level and she loves it! When it comes to my 4th grader though, it is a different story.
When my 4th grader was younger, he couldn’t read enough. His mom and I were very proud parents of someone who would read for hours and this continued from pre-school through 1st grade. Second grade seemed to be going well until about four weeks into school when his teacher sent home what resembled a reading log. Every night my child was required to not only read for 20 minutes, but to write a summary every time he was done reading. Needless to say, the love of reading was quickly going down hill.
I quickly got a hold of the teacher about his approach to having students read and within a week, a note was sent home about different ways to help students understand what they were reading. Unfortunately, that quickly went away and we were back write a summary after every time we read. My child despised doing those summaries. He even asked several time if there was something else that he could do.
Fast forward to 4th grade and some of his love for reading has come back. His mom and I try hard to have him read. With efforts from his 3rd grade teacher and this year’s 4th grade teacher, he seems to be liking it again, but not to the extent he was prior to the start of 2nd grade. Just recently we have started to visit our local library and he is the proud owner of his first library card (He feels very responsible!). His love loss is real and he isn’t the only one.
At some point there becomes a disconnect for kids for their love of reading and no it isn’t because of electronics or technology either. My son isn’t the only one that has had a reading log sent home and has been required to write multiple summaries about the reading. Though I am guilty of having my students record their reading times at home, I don’t recall a time I have made them write about what they read. I have just wanted them READ, no matter what it they picked up.
The question isn’t about the fact that reading love loss is happening or that it happens. It happens! The real reason for me writing this is to find out strategies on how we can get our students to fall in love with reading once that love is gone.
Please feel free to comment.
Second blog in a week! I almost forgot the power behind blogging. Trying to rock it out again this week.
Communication has been vital for hundreds of years. The way people communicate has changed drastically. From sending notes through the Pony Express to a note on a pigeon’s leg. Now, we have email, text messaging, and other forms of online communication that can essentially let us hide from having more intimate conversations with individuals.
Even though we have easier ways to communicate, face-to-face conversation seems to be quickly losing popularity or perhaps it already has been cast aside. Just recently I was astonished at my 8th grader’s reaction when I told them they couldn’t have cell phones on their upcoming bus trip to the fish hatchery for our Salmon in the Classroom project. It was as if I just told them I was going to cut off their arm or leg.
As I have pondered their reaction, I began to think about the communication that takes place in education and more specifically among teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.
I am all for the use of technology in responsible ways and it has made our world easier to access the individuals that we need to get in touch with. In fact, we can’t blame technology for how our students learn today. The downfall to all the ways we can access people has caused a serious decline in building effective relationships with others. This just doesn’t fall on the teachers or the students either, it falls on everyone’s shoulder to get better.
When it comes to building positive relationships between administrators and teachers, it is easier for principals and superintendents to put out emails and videos. Videos can be created for staff meetings instead of trying to work around everyone’s schedule when it comes to coaching and other after school activities. However, unless there are face-to-face conversations taking place, those positive relationships are not being built. I am thankful that my principal not only has an open door policy but has the leadership to engage in conversations with the teachers in the hall and in their classrooms. He doesn’t just send emails to the teachers hoping they will read it and claim he is communicating with us.
In addition to administrators reaching out and building relationships with staff members, I feel we are at a critical time in education where school board members need to be having face-to-face conversations with not only teachers but with the community as well. Currently, what I am seeing, is little interaction between board members and community members. It seems to me that there is not a working relationship to make schools better between these entities. I know that this isn’t the case for all school districts and I don’t mean to offend those that have solid relationships. However, I am currently seeing it with my own eyes and not only has it had a negative impact on relationship building, there is a lack of respect among board members, teachers, and community members. So much, that people are starting not to care which has negative consequences on the students in the end.
It is true that communication has changed drastically over the past 100 years. I feel it is more important than ever to talk with people and build relationships with them through everyday conversation, not useless emails, newsletters, or text messages. If we can do this as adults, we can definitely help our kids understand the importance of effective communication not only make them better citizens but help our schools become better places to learn.
What does communication mean to you?