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Let’s face it—many people are reluctant writers. Memories of school essays all marked up in red still send shudders up and down their spines. And…many non-Language Arts/English teachers resist holding students accountable for proper English usage in their class assignments because they do not feel comfortable correcting grammar. In fact, many do not assign writing tasks at all because they dread reading poorly written pieces. However, literacy standards are now everyone’s responsibility, not just the Language Arts teacher’s.

A middle level team must stand together and insist that students use their best writing skills in all classes and be willing to return work to students to revise and edit when the work is sloppy. My previous post suggests that team teachers identify and address the most egregious grammar mistakes their students are making.

Here is a second strategy teams can use to help your students become better writers.  Another “tool” so to speak. It is Grammarly, a web-based grammar checking site.  Now, for the most part, the whys and hows of proper grammar use are taught in the language arts classroom. However, there needs to be a reinforcement of proper usage across the curriculum.  Grammarly can help in 3 ways:

1. Students can upload their work to the site and have it checked.  Grammarly tends to catch more spelling, usage, and style errors than Word. In addition, it checks for plagiarism. Students can double check their work in science, social studies, math, art, or any other class.  They receive digital feedback on what they need to correct before passing in the assignment. The teachers can then concentrate on reviewing the accuracy of the content rather than being totally distracted by misspellings, double negatives, or incorrect verb forms.

Identifies errors missed in rereading of written text

Identifies errors missed in rereading of written text

2. Using the extension on Google Chrome, students can get immediate feedback when they are working on online writing assignments. Think what a boon this feature would be for your English language learners and students with writing and processing issues!

Misspelling!

Misspelling!

3. The Grammarly Facebook page has an endless supply of clever and funny images related to literacy. Use them in your instruction.  Humor helps us remember!

Not a famous literary cat, but she helps me write my blog posts.

Not a famous literary cat, but she helps me write my blog posts.

4. Here’s a bonus for the teachers on the team who just love to talk grammar.  Grammarly has a great blog where they can read about such topics as animal idioms, words that get confused, email etiquette and cats in literature.

 

As a team research Grammarly and see how this site might be useful to you.  Obviously the students need easy access to digital devices.  Check out these web pages:

1. grammarly.com/grammar-check

2. An article from Forbes Magazine: http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2012/10/21/i-dont-tolerate-poor-grammar/

3. A quick overview of Grammarly video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No0IPf98UaQ

Next, you will need to talk to your tech folks and probably your administration.  Grammarly is free, however, students do have to have accounts. Secondly, if you use the Google Chrome extension, it does need to be installed on the school’s computers.  At the very least you can demonstrate how the website works so students can use it at home.

As a team, you need to use Grammarly for a bit to feel comfortable with its functionality. When you are ready to share it with your students, build in time to show them how to use it. Point out that it will explain what the mistake is so that they can learn from their own errors.

Identifying the error

Identifying the error

Showing the solution

Showing the solution

What I like about Grammarly is that it is tool that students can use in many situations—in and out of school. And no, tools like Grammarly do not make us lazy about being aware of usage and spelling.  They help us fine-tune our skills. Probably 95% of  us make grammatical errors in our everyday speaking and writing. I have reliable writing skills, but when I use Grammarly (like right now), it always picks up errors that I miss during my revising and editing process. It’s not perfect, but teaching students to use it effectively will help them become better writers—in all of their classes. Also, it is a great tool for teachers to use to double check communications they send home to parents.  Check it out:  grammarly.com/grammar-check.

 

 

 

Toolbox full of tools

The right tools help get a job done well.

A toolbox is a well-used metaphor because it denotes a set of tools or skills that help get a task done well. Helping students become better writers is an everyday responsibility for each member of the team, and a shared set of effective strategies benefits both the teachers and their students.

Tool # 1: Knowledge of the grammatical errors most likely to doom speakers and writers to be viewed unfavorably.

There are specific grammatical mistakes that grate on people’s nerves and often lead to a diminished respect for the person committing the error. When a team collaborates to help their students eliminate these blunders from their conversations and writing, they move their students toward meeting standards and being able to present themselves in a favorable light in any situation.

The image below lists the most egregious grammar errors.

Most egregious grammar errors

Most egregious grammar errors

This image lists grammar mistakes that many people consider very serious.

Grammar mistakes to avoid.

Grammar mistakes to avoid.

 

Here are three ideas of how a team might make use of this knowledge:

  1. Identify which of these serious grammar mistakes are most prevalent in your students’ speaking and writing. Then, create a plan for helping students eliminate these errors.  Helping kids with their grammar can be very delicate work because they may interpret any corrections as an insult to themselves or their families.  It is important, I think, to set a context by talking about audience and purpose.  For example, the way any of us speaks in a job interview is different from the way we chat with our friends. Taking the time to have conversations about the different ways we communicate with family and friends, in the neighborhood, at a religious service, for an assignment in school, or applying for a job is important.  The topic of informal and formal speaking would make a great advisory unit.  Students could role play, make posters, create public service announcements for younger children, or draw cartoons that illustrate proper grammar usage.
  2. As a team focus on one particular error for a week or two — The week of eradicating the double negative or Stamp out sentence fragments month. 
  3. Use common rubrics that include specific grammar usage issues.  If the team agrees that they are going to look for three specific errors in all of its students’ writing, students will have proper usage reinforced in multiple contexts.  They will also see that all of their teachers value correct grammar.  And… for non-language arts teachers it may relieve some stress related to correcting for proper grammar in their assignments.  As students’ work improves, add additional grammar usage issues to the mix. It is critical to continue talking about student writing in team meetings and building everyone’s expertise and confidence in addressing writing in their curriculum area.

***Of course, correct grammar is just one aspect of teaching writing across the curriculum. We’ll look at some additional ideas in later posts.

 

 

“Why do I have to revise and edit my lab report?  This is science class, not Language Arts!”

“Why do you give essay tests?” This isn’t an English class!”

“Journaling in Math?  We do those in Language Arts; why are we doing them here?”

“You want me to write about an artist’s style? Why can’t I just show you with images?”

Most of us have experienced student complaints when writing-based tasks are assigned.  Students often compartmentalize skills by subject area, and in their minds writing belongs in Language Arts class. However, writing is a skill that crosses all disciplines and is a requirement for most professional jobs.  In fact, salaries often increase in proportion to one’s ability to write well.  Look at the infographic below.  It details the results of a study conducted by the folks at Grammarly.com, a popular web-based grammar checking service.

Grammarly.com Infographic

Grammarly.com Infographic

Over the next couple of blog posts, I will share several ideas for making the teaching of writing a team-based enterprise. Step 1 might be that the language arts teacher shares this infographic with his teammates and begins a conversation during common planning time by asking, “I wonder if it might not be worth our time to review how we reinforce good writing skills across our team classes, and then explore one or two additional ways to support our students as they work on becoming better writers?”

Next time: How Grammarly.com could be useful to students in all classes.

Take advantage of common planning time  to support one another as you address Common Core or state literacy standards in all of your classrooms.

Teachers planning in Sierra Leone

Teachers planning in Sierra Leone

Three actions you can take as a team to better help your students become proficient readers and writers in the middle grades:

1. Compile a list of what your students actually read and write in your various classes. Categorize them:

  • Reading (materials your students actually read, not what you read to them)
  1. Literary
  2. Informational
  • Writing
  1. Argument
  2. Narrative (Convey an Experience)
  3. Informative/Explanatory
  4. Other (i.e. poetry)

Look at the entire mix and determine if your students’ reading and writing assignments fall within the Common Core guidelines.

Reading

Common Core Reading45 % Literary                    55% Informational

Remember, you should be considering all of the reading your students do, not just those texts in language arts class!

Writing

Common Core writing35% Argument

35% Narrative

30% Informative/Explanatory

Remember to think about all classes, not just language arts.  Writing is everyone’s responsibility.

With this information at your fingertips, the team will be better prepared to have conversations with administrators and parents about the ways you are addressing the Common Core. Also, knowing what each other is teaching lends itself to collaboration. Provide students with multiple practices in different contexts to build their proficiency levels in literacy.

2. Talk about inferences–don’t assume everyone on the team has the same knowledge. Make sure everyone on the team understands what they are and how they apply to each subject area’s reading assignments.

Good readers readily make inferences. Others need explicit instruction and practice to apply this skill in their reading.

Good readers readily make inferences. Others need explicit instruction and practice to apply this skill in their reading.

 

Some useful links:

 

3. Have students practice citing textual evidence in all classes. The lesson may or may not to end up as a piece of writing. Small group work, class discussions, 4 Corners, and other oral strategies provide opportunities for students to practice this skill.   Remember to ask, “Would you please show me the details in the text that support what you just said.”

Here’s a video of a direct teaching lesson focused on citing text. https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-about-textual-evidence

 

laptops4Students explain their project to a visitor.

Collaborating as a team to coordinate and reinforce learning benefits all students.

 

1:1 Digital Learning

1:1 Digital Learning Opens Many Doors!

  Briasco-BrinnSchools across the country are adding technology at a fast pace. iPads, laptops, Chrome Books, and tablets are appearing in classrooms, often without a plan of action for successful implementation in place. This June there is a fabulous opportunity for teams to learn from experts on the best way to implement and sustain a widespread technology project.  The “experts” are educators who have a decade of experience in integrating 1:1 digital learning into their instruction. assessment, and curriculum. The place is the gorgeous coast of Maine in late June!  1:1 Digital Learning Institute–June 26-27 in Kennebunk, Maine

Here are all of the details!

1:1 Learning Experts to Share Best Practices and Practical Advice

Digital 1:1 Learning Summit Scheduled for June 26-27 in Kennebunk, ME

KENNEBUNK, MAINE (March 5, 2014)–Digital 1:1 learning has revolutionized the learning experience, empowering teachers to personalize learning and connect students to the world like never before. An effective 1:1 program goes far beyond the purchase of laptops or tablets—yet, many schools don’t know where to begin.

HSblooger5

A team of education experts from the Maine Association of Middle Level Educators (MAMLE) and the New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) have organized the first annual Digital 1:1 Learning Institute, which will take place at the Middle School of the Kennebunks in Kennebunk, Maine June 26-27, 2014.

Keynote speakers at the two-day event include Senator Angus S. King, Jr., a visionary leader who, as governor of Maine, launched the world’s first and most comprehensive 1:1 initiative to bring learning technology into all Maine middle level schools; and Dr. Mike Muir, a Maine educator and expert on engaged learning for all students. A member of the original advisory team for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), Dr. Muir helps lead the nation’s first full primary iPad project in Auburn, Maine.

Kids writing

 Organizers say the conference will provide participants the knowledge and confidence to develop a vision and plan for their specific educational setting, as well as practical advice on what to do – and what not to do — from Maine teachers, administrators, and technology education leaders who have been at the forefront of digital learning for over a decade.  A panel of students whose learning was transformed by 1:1 will share their experiences.

MS2

Participants are encouraged to bring a team from their school that includes teachers, administrators and technology professionals. There will be three tracks from which to choose—elementary, middle school and high school—so participants can learn strategies appropriate to the level they teach. ipads - 14-2

The cost of the conference, not including accommodations, is $295 per person if registered before May 15; when a five-member team is registered together, a sixth registration is free. Participants will receive 12 continuing education credits for attending this conference. For more information or to register, visit http://www.nelms.org/pages/conferences/1to1learning.html

Contacts:

Chris Toy
christoy.net@gmail.com
207-653-3163

Jill Spencer

jillspencer51@gmail.com
207-353-2746

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Students must become efficient, effective, and ethical researchers

~school, college, career, life~

Common Core Literacy Anchor Standards

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Address these standards (informational literacy) systematically–don’t allow your students to leave your team with a hodge-podge of strategies for locating accurate information quickly:

  • Identify the specific skills students need in order to meet standards.
  • Create a team folder on the school server or a team wiki where all of the materials can be located in a central location so everyone has access.
  • Adapt and add to lessons as needed.  The librarian/media specialist should be the team’s number one resource–bring him or her lots of freshly baked cookies and other goodies.
  • Design a team plan of action for teaching and reinforcing information literacy skills across the curriculum. Set up a calendar and hold one another accountable.

teachers working together1. Identify places in the curriculum that are a natural fit for these skills.

2. Divide these skills up and teach them in the context of units across the curriculum.
3. Remember! Every assignment does not have to include the entire research process.  Some assignments may only include locating resources and evaluating them for reliability, and others may focus on taking notes, paraphrasing, and summarizing.
4. Chunk up research assignments into segments with checkpoints in order to monitor student progress.

Check resources on the web for ideas, lessons, and resources:

Big 6The Big 6: Information and Technology Skills for Student Achievement (http://www.big6.com/ and http://www.big6.com/kids/). These sites are multi-faceted and include some free lessons, descriptions of units where teachers have integrated the Big 6 components, and free resources such as graphic organizers and note taking templates.  This is also a commercial site and offers products and staff development.  They take advantage of social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and also have a RSS feed. This approach has six components in the process:

  • Task Definition
  • Information Seeking Strategies
  • Location and access
  • Use of information
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Noodle Tools (http://www.noodletools.com/) is a subscription site that also offers free tools that are extremely useful. Their free tools include “Choose the Best Search,” a tool to help identify how to use search engines and their features for efficient searching and several resources for becoming an expert in the tricky world of citations.  There are also some interesting resources for teachers including one very valuable one on being an ethical researcher.

ISTE Standards (http://tiny.cc/ISTE144) are published by the International Society for Technology in Education.  These standards are related to the entire world of the integration of technology into education and are worth a close look. The third standard relates directly to research and information fluency:

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

Students:

  • Plan strategies to guide inquiry.
  • Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
  • Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
  • Process data and report results.

21st Century Information Fluency (http://21cif.com/) This is a commercial site that was originally connected to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. There are free tutorials and wizards that help both the budding and accomplished searcher become even more proficient with information fluency skills.  Many students often feel because they use the internet so much that there is nothing new to learn.  The search challenges on this site will test the skills of each and every student.

University of Maryland University College (http://tiny.cc/Research574) Although this site is designed for older students, it has resources that are useful to teachers.  It is divided into seven modules: Doing Research, Copyright, Using the Library, Call Numbers, Finding Books, Finding Articles, Finding Websites.

One last note…if you really want to your students to internalize the research process so that they can apply it to situations beyond the classroom, allow them to research topics that interest them!

This posting is adapted from Chapter 8 of Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success — available from AMLE (AMLE.org).

teamingrocks

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