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!

Advertisements

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!


Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!

Writing Reflections

On Thursday of this past week I asked my 8th graders to reflect back on their writing they have done this year.   Earlier in the week as I was developing my lesson plans I began to really think about the writing we have done this past year.  As I do every other year, I began to feel guilty because I was thinking I didn’t assign enough writing for them to do throughout the year.  So, when I described the reflection assignment for my students, we composed a list on the board.  If I was thinking about it, I would have taken a picture of the list and just posted the picture, but instead I will have to compose the list again here. Below you will see all of the writing I have done this year with my 8th graders.

1. This I believe Essay – Posted to our classroom wiki.

2. Alternate endings for The Giver by Louis Lowry (Students could do a traditional writing, Glog, or Comic Strip.

3. 25 word story

4. Sentence in a day

5. Compare/Contrast Essay between characters in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

6. Glog or Book Cube for Christmas break book (See previous post I have written).

7.Celly writing – writing journal prompts and collaboration with cell phones

8. Journal Writing on various topics every day

9. Extended journal writings – Students went back through previous journal writings and found ways to make them more detailed and better.

10. 50 word stories

11. Paper Tweets – a two day lesson on Twitter and tweeting.

12. Biographies – Posted to our classroom wiki.

13. 8th Grade Reflection writing

14. Police Reports – Modeled after George Hillocks Argumentative Writing Book

15. Musical Chair Writing – Post a comment or send me an email if you want information about this activity.

16. Article of the Week – (Title does not reflect the fact I didn’t do this every week)

17. Science Fiction Stories

18. Ticket out the door writing responses.

Now for the sake of time and not boring my few readers, I will just say there are a few more writing activities that  I have not posted.  When I reflect back on the amount of writing my students did this year, I have nothing to feel guilty about.  My students definitely did more writing than I did grading.  Kelly Gallagher argues this in his books.  We as teachers do not need to be grading everything our students do.  There were many occasions my students turned in writing and it was graded on a formative scale rather than be a summative grade. What I really noticed is how much digital writing my students have done this year.  My students wrote on Glogster, toondoo, used Celly phones in class, they used Google Docs/Drive and helped create a paperless classroom and used it regularly for collaboration.

The other thought I had was about academic rigor.  The Common Core Standards essentially helps guide teachers to develop more rigor in our classroom.  I still believe my students can do more writing and I will push my students to do more writing next year and the years to come.  If you want any information on any of the listed writing above, feel free to email me or make a comment.

Cheers!


Bringing Twitter into the Classroom: A Low Budget Approach

It is no secret that I teach at a rural school that has a very restricted budget when it comes to technology.  Believe me when I say there have been many of us fighting for upgrades, new computers, wireless, smartboards, document cameras, etc.  Last week I took a different approach to introducing my students to Twitter. Now, I have thrown a lot at both my 7th and 8th graders when it comes to Technology.  My students have learned about Google Docs, Glogster, Celly, our Wiki Page, and Edmodo.  I will admit, I have taken all of them completely by storm.  My 7th graders think it is crazy that I like technology so much.  Anyways, I didn’t want to quickly shove one more piece of technology down my students throats.  So, what I did is I introduced my students to Twitter.  Before we talked about Twitter I had my students do the following for their writing into the day:

Write a message to someone you know using 144 characters or less.  It must make sense and you can’t use text lingo.

Needless to say when the students shared, they had some really interesting posts.  One student wrote: “I am writing a 144 character message. I am doing this because my teacher is asking us to” After the students were done doing this I cleared my white board and drew the word TWITTER on the board.  I then proceeded in having a class discussion about what Twitter actually is and what is its purpose.  All of my classes were similar in their responses.  Here are the common ones they came up with.

  1. A type of social network w/similar qualities like Facebook.
  2. A way to tell people what you are doing at any given point.
  3. It’s free
  4. You can follow people and people can follow you
  5. It is symbolized by a little blue bird
  6. You tweet

I felt my students did an awesome job with this particular part of the lesson.    Next, I asked my students why companies, businesses, or colleges might use Twitter.  I gave subway, and Jimmy Johns as an example.  Students gave multiple answers, but bottom line, they came up with promoting a product and getting people to buy their product.  I responded by saying “Yes, however, why Twitter?”  This part stumped students.  It took a lot of prompting but I did get a few students talk about the idea that it was free and we then discussed the cost of advertising.

After our discussion, I asked students to go back and either write another personal “paper tweet” or write a “paper tweet” from a company or business perspective.  The students did great.  I wish I had pictures of the work they did.  The next time I do this lesson I will take pictures and have students write on a sticky note to put on a poster.  Anyways, I finished the lesson by telling the students they could sign up for a Twitter account and I showed them what the home page looked like on Twitter.com. I did not want my students to feel overwhelmed by having them sign-up for one more digital tool that required a password and username they would probably just forget.  I wanted them to feel less pressure and allow them to view it for themselves and play with this valuable digital tool.  I encouraged my students to follow me, but I told them I would not follow them in return just because of student/teacher relationship boundaries.  I want to follow-up further with my students and see if any of them have creating twitter accounts and find out who or what they are following. I think you could take this lesson and put your twists on it, but I thought it was valuable to teach to my students, especially because there are a lot of social media websites out there they need to learn about.

Cheers.