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.

grammar (1)

(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.

 

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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!


Just Hanging Out…and Learning

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:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. 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.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

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.

Reflection

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:

  • Collaborate
  • 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

Cheers!


Choosing the Right Technology for Schools

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!

 

Cheers!


Why Twitter is Valuable in the Classroom

Have you ever looked at the idea of teaching informational writing and thought to yourself it was going to be a struggle to motivate your students?  I honestly used to dread teaching any type of informational writing to my students.  I always felt my students were very disconnected in the informational world of writing.  I have taught compare/contrast, and a straight up expository writing where students had to pick a topic and “explain” it or give information on the topic they chose.

Well, without a doubt it is safe to say I was being a lousy teacher in the past.  Sometimes I wish I could have those days back when I could have done so much more for my students. 

Now, because I can’t change the past,  I won’t dwell on it. Today, my students are exploring several different pieces of informational text.  As mentioned in my last post, my students know informational writing already. I have to give them a lot of credit.  On the other hand, when it came to introducing them to Twitter, they were not so well versed.  Out of the three 7th grade classes I teach I had a total of eight students raise their hand when I asked who had a Twitter account.  This led me to ask them about their use of Twitter and only two of the eight students actually use Twitter at least once a week.  This has led me to do some thinking about social media.  Is the hype over using social media winding down? I believe I even mentioned this in my last post about Facebook.  Students, or at least my students, don’t seem to be connected as much to the social media sites.

Now, my students are well aware of what Twitter is and they know about people following you and you following others. As our discussion progressed we discussed professional uses and business uses of Twitter.  Students came to the understanding that businesses use it because it is free advertising for companies that would otherwise have to pay for commercials, billboards, or magazine ads. They were spot on when we talked about reaching audiences who were technology savy and may do their shopping online.  We even talked about free giveaways (like the one I am having now). 

When it came to the professional use of Twitter, it was a tougher conversation.  Students needed to understand how Twitter can be rich with information that can be valuable to them and adults such as myself.  It is much more than following what Justin Beiber is doing. I shared with my classes who I follow and what I am trying to get out of Twitter. I talked about how it is my professional community where I can obtain resources and information about teaching, education, reading, and writing.

At this point, this is where we discuss the idea of hash-tags and what they are used for on Twitter. For my class, we will be using hash-tags to display items like examples of complex sentences, compound sentences, subordinate clauses, etc.  This will build mentor texts for my students to refer to when they are reading or writing.  In essence I am helping them build their own professional community.  Twitter will also help them build more understanding about being a digital citizen as they follow other classmates and use the community we will build using hash-tags.

Our lessons on Twitter runs about two days.  By the end of the second day I have the students do a paper tweet in their journal practicing the 140 character rule that Twitter has for tweets. Students write about anything from what they did the night before to what they might be doing after school.  Next week, we will start effectively using our hash-tags in class.

Cheers!


Not Enough Time: Digital Citizenship/Mobile Devices/Discussions

Day 2 of school had its bright spots and its challenges.  We are fortunate enough to have a mobile lab with 30 Dell Laptops for our students to use.  After finishing some typical house keeping items, I was ready to deploy the laptops to my students.  Before I assigned students to a computer, I began by asking students to help me make a list of examples of mobile devices.  The list the students compiled looked like this:

  1. laptops
  2. cell phones
  3. Kindles
  4. PSP
  5. Nintendo DS
  6. Ipad
  7. Ipod
  8. Itouch
  9. Nexus
  10. tablets

It was clear to me, whether it was 7th or 8th grade, the students had a clear grasp on the concept of what a mobile device is.  Upon completing our list on the whiteboard, I shifted their thinking to another topic that involved using mobile technologies; digital citizenship.  As an educator and an advocate for the use of mobile technology in the classroom, I was disappointed when I posed the question: “Who has heard of digital citizenship?” Out of all three of my 7th grade classes, not one student raised their hand.  This is a problem.  By 7th grade students need to be made well aware of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.  Needless to say, I felt it was necessary to discuss this topic with them.  During our conversation we discussed the characteristics of being a citizen. Students knew that a good citizen participated in community activities, was respectful, followed rules/laws, and needed to be helpful to others.  After students exhausted all the characteristics we talked about how they apply to being a digital citizen as well. Furthermore, I took the time to address cyber-bullying and sexting.  By the end of the week, I would like to develop a handout or sheet for the students to put inside of their planners stating their responsibilities as a digital citizen.  I also want to send the handout home to parents to help educate them as well.  The 8th graders were much  better when it came to digital citizenship and that is because I discussed it with them last year.  I did revisit cyber-bullying and sexting to pound home the importance behind what NOT to do when using a mobile device.

Even though I took more time discussing digital citizenship than what I wanted, it will be worth it in the long wrong.  Laptops were handed out to each student.  I called up 5 students at a time and assigned them a number.  The number they are assigned will be the same number laptop they will use in other classes.  This helps us as the teachers and our tech guy who to talk to if the computer has been used maliciously or it gets broken.  On the whiteboard the students were given written directions on what to do with the computer.

  1. Turn on the laptop
  2. Login to your school account
  3. Access Internet Explorer
  4. Go to www.schoology.com
  5. Watch the short video on the home page

After all of the students completed the tasks on the board, I walked them through the sign-up process for Schoology.  Students were given their individual course codes and then they had to fill in their names, usernames, and passwords.  I directed students to use their last name and first initial of their first name for their username.  For example, mine would by hylerj.  I asked them to make their passwords something easy to remember or use the same password they use for Facebook.  Schoology has an excellent feature available to teachers where they can reset a student’s password if they happen to forget it.  Now, I did run into a few glitches today with students not being able to log in to their school accounts meaning they couldn’t use the laptop that was in front of them.  Such is life when it comes to technology.  I had these students look on with other students who didn’t have difficulty logging in.

Despite the typical issues that came about today, I was able to get everyone signed into their courses I created.  We then walked through the files/links tab and the discussion tab.  We focused more of our attention on the discussion tab.  It is here where we will be collaborating as a class.  I will have the students post discussion questions for socratic discussions we will have in class.  It will be a place I may post reading questions after the students finish a reading homework assignment, and it is a space where students can ask me questions about homework or other assignments.  Today, I simply posted the question, what is your favorite music, music artist and why?  I instructed the students to post their reply and respond to 2 other members in the class.  Prior to releasing them to work on their own, I modeled for them what a quality response is to another member.  Responses like nice, wow, I agree, I like that, and great are not accessible.  I want my students to actually have a discussion, so I direct them to ask questions, be thoughtful and to put some time into their responses.  This conversation and modeling is worth it because students really start to have quality discussions.  Below is an example of what a discussion page looks like.

Once students got started, there weren’t any issues with them operating the site.  A lot of students were shocked how much it is like Facebook.  Even though it appears my students may not have done a lot in class today, they did complete at least one of the Common Core Standards.

  • Standards W.7.6 and W.8.6 – Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Students were able to identify technology (Schoology) and collaborated with peers and their teacher through technology to enhance their writing.

By the time the end of the day came, I felt like I had been holding my breath all day long.  It never seems like there is enough time to cover what needs to be done.  Tomorrow brings us to Narrative reading.

Cheers!


1st Day Reflections

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

Cheers!