For the last two weeks I have been struggling with my 8th graders when it comes to writing. It all came to a head for me last week when I asked one of my 8th graders to give me the definition of a sentence and they couldn’t. Then, after they understood what a sentence was, they couldn’t determine what was wrong with the thesis statement they had written. The clause read “How there are similarities and differences.” They believed it was a sentence. The sentence situation was only the beginning.
This past weekend I was going over outlines for a compare/contrast paper they are working on now. Needless to say, they were not meeting my expectations. Poor sentence quality, lack of transitions, and students not knowing how to follow simple guidelines on finishing an appropriate outline. I instructed the students today that anyone lower than a 9 had to make corrections. I wanted this writing project to take 2 weeks tops. I am on week 3 due to the poor quality of writing. Ultimately, I am frustrated about the fact my students are content on just turning in a paper or any other assignment and thinking it is just good enough.
Naturally, as I reflect, I start to put blame onto myself. I had these students as 7th graders. Was I blind to the fact they are in need of some major intervention as writers? Did I let them slide too much last year on their writing assignments? What has happened? I am starting to think I have failed them. Other data suggests that I haven’t, but I still feel that way.
Now, because I am noticing more and more deficiencies, I am making some changes. I offer help Tuesday’s and Thursday’s during lunch time. In addition, I am making students redo, redo, redo before we move forward. However, I struggle with moving too slowly and deciding when I have to move forward. Furthermore, I can only get on their cases so much before they start tuning me out and I sound like the Charlie Brown Teacher…”Whant whant, whant!”
I wonder too if our society in general is have an impact on them. Do students notice that mediocrity is okay? Look at our government! They are our biggest models of “it is okay to fail and still get paid for it”.
Anyways, I am not here for a political battle, I just want to know if other middle school or high school teachers encounter some of the same problems I have been enduring for the last 2 weeks.
Last year, my principal approached our science teacher and myself to think about the idea of flipping some lessons in our classroom. Since we have the ability to do so we thought it would be a great idea to try. Here are our goals in doing flipped lessons:
1. Engage our students more.
2. Cut down on missing assignments.
3. Create more time in our classrooms to help remedial students.
4. Give the brighter students a chance to excel at activities presented with each lesson.
Our journey began by reading Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, which is a great book for anyone that is a beginner at flipping lessons.
Our principal also had us go to some profession development that was very informative and well worth our time to help us develop what we wanted to accomplish with our students.
So, I decided in my classroom that I wanted to flip grammar. This is an area kids want to fall asleep and at times can be difficult to engage them. This year, it has been a success flipping grammar. My 8th graders have been working a lot with flipped lessons on dialogue and some students created skits with dialogue and performed their skits in front of the class. It was awesome! I wish I could have taken pics.
By no means am I an expert at flipping lessons yet, it will take me at least through this year to refine my lessons and approach. In addition, I need time to reflect back on what I have done this year too.
Below is a flipped lesson I did with my 7th graders on types of sentences. It is very amateur, but I like it. I used an iPad app called TouchCast, which is free. I hope you enjoy!
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.
It has been some time since my last post and I apologize to my readers. Fortunately, I have been working on other writing that can benefit me professionally. Today dealing with 21st century learners can be a bit of a challenge for us in the language arts world. It isn’t enough to simply say to today’s learners that class is going to be fun or the topic we are going to write about is going to be of interest to you. Let’s face it, teaching students, especially middle schoolers how to write is a challenge. You add the CCSS to that equation, we now have to be more prepared in our classrooms to teach our students. As I have been spending an absorbent amount of time writing these last 3 weeks, I have given a lot of thought about how to make my students better writers. Though I am confident I do a solid job modeling for my students what I want to see out of their writing, I have failed to show them one side of me as a writer. I have failed to show my students the times I have stumbled or struggled with my own writing. All of the writing my students have viewed that belongs to me have been either finished or close to a finished product.
As I continue to find new ways to better myself as a teacher of writing and my students, I have realized they need to know about the times I struggle and what I have done to overcome those moments. Since the end of April I have been working on a book proposal and as my Thursday night writing group critiqued me and gave me valuable feedback last week, I knew I had to go back and do some major revision to my writing and make my voice more present in my writing. My audience needed to hear me and not a superficial voice that didn’t represent me or my writing. This has been somewhat of a struggle for me, but I have persevered. Then, I remembered, I didn’t share this particular uncomfortable adventure with my students. So, when I return to school, I will take the time to talk to my students about how I struggled with my writing.
So, why do I feel this is important for not just me, but other teachers to do in their classrooms? First, if I want my struggling writers to take the risk of making a mistake, they need to see me, the teacher/expert make mistakes and know that I am a human being who struggles with writing from time to time. I feel there are language arts teachers out there who find it easy to stand in front of a classroom and bark at their students about how a piece of writing should be constructed, but the teacher themselves don’t show how they go through the writing process and discuss with students how they struggle with certain parts of their own writing. Show them your not perfect. Second, modeling is by far one of the most important aspects of teaching. On the other hand, if a teacher actually writes with their students, they send a clear message to their students; writing is important! In my professional opinion, writing with your students is the best form of modeling a teacher can display for their students.
Finally, I want to leave my readers with this final thought, especially if you are a language arts teacher. Think about how many times your have shared your own writing with your students. It can be visually, or orally. If you don’t regularly do this in your classroom, I encourage you to start now. I don’t care if it is nearing the end of the year and you are trying to squeeze in the last of those curriculum requirements, share your writing. There are a lot teachers who lack the confidence to share there writing. I completely understand your position, but we need to be learners too and allow our students to catch a glimpse of what goes on inside of our heads. Who knows, we may gain some valuable insight from our students about our own writing. If a writing workshop classroom is what you desire, you will never gain your students trust if you don’t share your own writing. By sharing our own writing students are not so reluctant to share their writing and we as teachers might learn more about our students, other than the obvious fact they are language arts students in our classroom.