Texting is a Language with Rules

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 Giverstudents 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.

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Picture Courtesy of http://www.keywordsuggests.com

 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!

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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.

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(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.

 


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!


Flipping Grammar

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.

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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!

http://www.touchcast.com/mr_hyler/The-Latest-on-Sentence-Structure

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!


Mobile Devices: A Teachers Responsibility

Getting closer to the school year is dangerous for me.  I tend to have thought after thought going through my head and I get all of these ideas to do things in the classroom and I never make the conscious effort to write them down anywhere.  Well, today, I am.  Those that follow me and others who know me understand and know my passion for using cell phones and other mobile devices in the classroom.  Today, I started examining and thinking about using these devices from a different angle. An angle where I honestly feel it is my responsibility to help my students use these devices in the classroom and to teach them how to use them responsibly.

I can hear teachers screaming now saying, “Not me, it isn’t my responsibility!”  Yes, there are many skeptical teachers out there who believe these types of devices have no place in the classroom.  Others, already feel overwhelmed with the Common Core Standards and don’t want to add one more thing to their plate.  Though teaching students how to use mobile devices may have its challenges, it doesn’t add to my existing curriculum, it enhances it.   My passion for using mobile devices goes deeper than just being excited about the latest and greatest flashy items that can be used in the classroom.

1. Students Learn Differently – I have mentioned before how students grow up with technology in their hands.  From cell phones, Ipads, Kindles, and Nooks, it is easily accessible to students.  Think for a moment if a middle schooler has a question about anything in general.  Where do you think they look for that answer?  You got it, the internet!  In addition, according to Pew Internet Studies about 75% of students ages 12-17 possess cell phones. Those cell phones are used for texting (hmm, I smell writing opportunities here), emailing, surfing the internet and accessing social media outlets.  Our language arts department adopted Schoology for the upcoming school year ( a social media site for teachers and their students).  The bottom line is we can’t shove text books in front of our kids day after day or even have them do drill and kill exercises.  The best teachers I ever had from elementary to college were the ones that kept the class or students engaged.  Mobile devices can help me as a teacher to keep my students engaged.

2. Collaboration – One of the biggest reasons I love using mobile devices in my classroom is for collaboration. Literature circles are an easy way for teachers to expose their students to numerous novels and at the same time teach the students responsibility by assigning roles to each group member.  Keeping the spirit of the Common Core in mind, I add cell phones into the mix and my students not only collaborating with technology, but now the conversation can take place beyond the walls of the classroom and students start discussing the book without any prompting by me the teacher. Social media sites like Schoology also allows the students who don’t have mobile devices, to still interact via desktop computer.  In another instance, my students can collaborate on their writing via Google Docs.  For the past two years my students have been amazed at how Google Docs works and what it can provide.  Students instantly become connected learners when they collaborate on a piece of writing by their peers.  Google Docs was awesome for the writing group my colleague and I put together this past school year.  Watching students’ writing transform and go through the entire writing process is amazing.  The finished product is no doubt better with Google Docs because of the collaboration amongst students.

3. Digital Citizenship – To me this one term brings everything into focus for me. Part of me almost thinks as teachers we all have a duty to discuss and model this for our students. Again, some teachers may give the proverbial eye roll and bark out, “What about the parents?”  I know it may sound funny, but the parents are in just as much need to learn about digital citizenship.  Last week I proposed to my principal an “Ed Tech night” where parents get to engage themselves in what their child may do during a school day with technology.  In addition, I want to discuss with parents digital citizenship and what that means.  I want to talk to them about how students are using their cell phones in inappropriate and why it is inappropriate. Furthermore, discussing with parents what cyber bullying looks like and what affects it can have on another student.  Hopefully by engaging the parent as well as the student, some issues can be eliminated and parents will have a better grasp on why I use mobile devices in my classroom.  Needless to say, my principal is embracing the idea and we are meeting about it next week.

I am not sure if my reasoning is reasonable or even understandable, but I do know I am passionate about my job, my students, and the reasons it is important to implement mobile devices into my classroom.  When I hear in the hallway how much my students love my class because of how I use cell phones, I get pumped. After all, you don’t hear students say they enjoy language arts class.

Cheers!


Grammar, A Debate We Will Have Forever

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.

Cheers!