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.
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.
- Access and read your school’s acceptable use policy.
- Have face-to-face conversations with your principal.
- Discuss with colleagues what you would like to do and see what they are thinking – perhaps they can add support for you.
- Analyze your current technology situation at school. Will students have access to computers, iPads, cell phones, tablets, etc.?
- 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.
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.
This week has been crazy to say the least. On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!
Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking. For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout. If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout! I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios. Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.
As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths. Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all. Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.
Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing with students what they noticed. In addition, any questions they might have. Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another. As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera and asked questions about each other’s school. For example:
- What types of writing have you done this year?
- How many students do you have in your middle school?
- What sports can you play at your school
- What do you do for fun?
- Can you choose your own electives in middle school?
After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.
As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay” to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues. By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.
This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well. Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future. After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.
Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class. First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity. My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders. My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades. My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites. With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity. Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.
I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera. They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers. My students were very shy and I was shocked at this. In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too. My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud. A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.
Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:
- Practice communication skills
- Publish student writing to a broader audience
- Receive feedback on student writing
- Become connected with other learners
- Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world
For the past week I have been giving a lot of thought to the conversation my professional development partner and I had with some folks in Northern Michigan when it came to the implementation of technology in the classroom with informational writing. Teachers there were worried about not having the training necessary to use the tools properly. Not tools like Twitter, Google Drive, or Celly. They were worried about the hardware itself. For instance, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. For over a week now I nave been talking with parents, teachers, and other colleagues about this very topic. I have been very shocked by the conversations and the reactions I have received from others.
Choosing what technology to use within in a school is a difficult task, it can’t be a knee-jerk reaction for any school district that may feel the need to implement technology. Any school district is heading down the wrong path if they are simply implementing technology for the sake of saying “We have the latest and greatest”. It isn’t going to work out well for all parties involved, especially the students. Districts need to examine what is going to work well for them. After talking to several teachers about Ipad implementation, there seemed to be more gripes and groans about them, then positive feedback. Teachers are not liking chat features that can’t be taken off the Ipads, apps like Google Drive work, but is limited. In addition, anyone with an Ipad knows there is not a flash plugin on the Ipad. Other conversations revolved around bandwith space and tech support at individual schools, which aren’t completely out of the hands of the teacher, but can certainly be a struggle for teachers to get a listening ear on the situations. The comments by teachers were not a real huge surprise to me. I know launching a 1 to 1 program can be difficult in any school and there are going to be gliches along the way.
Teachers themselves though, want a say in what gets implemented. There are school rushing to implement Ipads and other tablets and then finding there are limitations to using the tablets. Teachers are crying foul in some instances because they never had a voice in the decision process. Others expressed to me that they did have a voice, but it was ignored. I deem it crucial for their to be discussion on what gets implemented into schools in terms of technological hardware. My school has a mobile lab and it looks as if we are going to be getting another one. The decision to buy more only came after a year of the first mobile lab being in place. Prior to the first one being bought, we had staff meetings discussing the needs we had for technology and what we would like to see. Our superintendent even asked this past fall what we needed, it was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it has been a bumpy ride to get where we are at as a district, but I really am not interested in getting Ipads or a tablet because I don’t see those meeting the needs of our students. We have students who don’t know how to use Microsoft Word correctly, so why would I want to waste the time showing them how to properly use a tablet. This doesn’t mean tablet won’t work in other districts. Finding out what fits for the students and the district itself is the best route and we can’t forget about the parents.
Parents I talked to were frustrated and actually down right angry. One parent from a district who has implemented tablets (not Ipads) was furious because her daughter was chosen for the pilot program and has never been taught how to use it. As a parent, she was given a one sheet handout on the program and asked to sign a contract for responsibility. No where on that sheet was there a discussion on being a digital citizen or how teachers were going to be using it in there classrooms. At the moment, the parent told me the tablet sits on the counter at home, not being used. Now, I don’t jump the gun and automatically take one parents word for it, so I did dome digging and talked to a teacher from the district and the teacher was just as frustrated because they never received any training on the tablet either, so they couldn’t instruct their students properly. In addition, they have had tech and server issues without a tech person able to assist them. The teacher relayed to me that many other teachers are just as fed up and are not using the devices. So why are districts advertising in newspapers that they have they new gadgets to use when teachers, students, and parents don’t know how to use them? Is it a marketing ploy to get more students to enter their district because numbers have been falling around school districts here in Michigan?
What ever the reason may be, districts shouldn’t be so quick to force the use of technology onto their teachers, students, or parents unless they are willing to do some research on what works best for their district. Students and parents need to be involved in the decision making process and parents need to be EDUCATED on the device and being a digital citizen. They big question should be “why” are we looking to use this type of hardware and what what are our intentions. Tis the season for implementation!
As mentioned in my last blog, my goal is to write every day this year to reflect back on my experience. Perhaps some of what I write tonight should have been written prior to the start of the first day of school, but if I didn’t take time to think about what I did, I couldn’t reflect, right?
This is my second year teaching both 7th and 8th grade language arts. I have to say I am completely amazed at the differences between the two grades. There is a huge difference in maturity, both socially and academically.
Despite the differences, I felt both groups of students did fairly well today. I am not sure what other teachers do on their first day of class, but I do not go over any classroom rules with my students. Part of me believes that is what their expectation is from me and I like to keep my students guessing. Bwaaahaaahaaa! That was my evil, take over the world, laugh. Instead of the rules, I jumped right in and had both my 7th and 8th grade students take a narrative reading pre-test. The state of Michigan has required teachers and schools to measure student growth. Our district has decided on a pre and post test as a way to measure student growth. I was not about to give my students an eight page reading document and 36 questions for the reading portion. Instead, I discussed with my principal how I have broken down my units into Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative. This mirrors the Common Core Standards and three major areas of writing that the CCSS focuses on. I do not however, teach just tree units, I teach six total units. So, I have broken down my pre-tests and the students took a short seven question narrative reading pre-test. This is only one part of the narrative pre-test. I will be giving them a small grammar pre-test in the coming days over the grammar concepts we will cover during our narrative unit. As a language arts department, the students will show growth through a writing portfolio throughout the year. I know, it sounds confusing right? If you haven’t already checked out Kevin Hodgson’s blog today, I encourage you to do so at Kevin’s Meandering Mind. I think we all feel the way he has portrayed the teacher in his comic when it comes to juggling the Common Core.
I also addressed the homework policy for my classroom. Now, as any middle school teacher knows, it is our job to prepare them for high school. I am always amazed at the 7th graders response when we go over the homework policy. Usually their mouths are wide open and they are disbelief. This year I feel I am going hardcore my students. To put in simply, they lose 50% for being one day late unless it is a major project where they will lose 30%. If it is more than one day late, they get no credit. If you would like a copy of my homework policy just leave me a comment. If my students bring it back signed by them and their parents tomorrow, I will give them extra credit.
I also took time with my students today setting up their writing notebooks or journals. This is important because most days we start the hour by doing “writing into the hour”. I set my notebook up very similar to how Jeff Anderson discusses journal writing in his book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage and Style into Writer’s Workshop. My classroom is indeed a writer’s workshop and this book was read by our language arts department prior to the start of last year. This year we are reading Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher. “Writing into the hour” is basic. I give students a topic to write about. The students can choose to write about the given topic or they can write about what is on their mind that day. In addition, I allow my students to even go back to a previous days entry and either continue or revise that piece of writing. With having so many choices, the students have no excuse not to be writing. I give my students 5-7 minutes to write and ask them to forget about the editor in their head and just write.
With those two activities, there wasn’t a lot of time left in class. I did hand out reading textbooks to my 8th graders and I tried to become more acquainted with my 7th graders by playing 2 truths and a lie with them. It isn’t the most thought-provoking activity, but it is fun and the students seem to enjoy it.
Now tomorrow and the rest of the week is going to bring in a whirlwind of technology to the students. Tomorrow the students will set-up their Schoology account and I will demonstrate and walk them through the reason we will be using this digital tool. Thursday the students will set-up their Twitter accounts and Friday we will do a recap and then move our way towards getting our Celly accounts ready. It is a busy week, so I am off to bed and ready to start another adventure tomorrow. Email or leave a comment with any questions