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Team Writing Instruction Tool # 2: Grammarly

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.

 

 

 

Fill a Team Toolbox With Shared Writing Strategies

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.

 

 

Helping Students Become Better Writers–A Team Priority!

“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.

3 Team Actions to Address Common Core Literacy Standards

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.

 

Use It or Lose It! Writing Across the Curriculum

I decided to take the summer off and not post here.  Out of habit, out of sight, out of mind!  Result: it has been very difficult to get back into writing regularly. Not only has my habit of posting been disrupted, but my ease with the writing process has been adversely affected.  Words don’t flow as easily, and my new idea generator seems stuck in neutral.  It occurs to me that the same thing happens to our students when we don’t expect them to write on a regular basis!

The ability to communicate is a life skill.  It’s one of the 4 C’s in the 21st century skills set  and encompasses several standards in the Common Core. Furthermore, developing students’ abilities to communicate effectively is just common sense–it’s an every century skill!

Teams need to work together to build their students’ ability to communicate in a variety of ways, including writing.  Here’s a terrific article about one very low performing high school that tackled writing together and found improvement in students’ skill levels in other areas: “The Writing Revolution” in The Atlantic.

Everything students write does not need to be corrected and graded. Sometimes the assignments are just practices–like shooting hoops on the school playground.  Providing students opportunities to try out new words, sentence structures, and genres  will have dividends as students become more comfortable with the written word.
A few ideas to get started as a team…

  • An idea from the article above–have students summarize in writing the big ideas from the lesson of the day (in any class) using sentence structures they have studied in Language Arts class.  Write a compound sentence summarizing ratios.  Write a sentence beginning with “although” that explains the process photosynthesis.
  • Use journals or writing logs in every class.
  1. Summarizers
  2. Discussion starter prompts
  3. Practices for citing evidence in an argument piece
  4. Creative writing (The creative economy generates personal income & revenue for state and federal governments–we shouldn’t ignore this aspect of our students’ education)
  5. Write sentences using words from Word Wall
  • Keep a team blog that informs parents and the community about what is happening on your team.  Have students write the different posts.
  • Plan interdisciplinary units where students synthesize information from several disciplines–have you looked at the Webquest site recently for ideas?
  • Teach students to access online writing resources in all classes (OWL. Grammar Girl, thesaurus)
  • Browse ReadWriteThink together to identify ideas for working as a team on literacy skills.

Our students will not improve as writers unless they write.  Working as a team to provide daily opportunities for students to experiment with words, sentence structures, and different genres is an important educational goal.

Additional sources on writing across the curriculum in middle school:

Middle School Journal

Previous post on The Atlantic article mentioned above

RAFT strategy

West Virginia DOE–specific strategies

The Power of Collaboration

Teams ought to take time to read Peg Tyre’s article, “The Writing Revolution” in the October 2012 Atlantic Magazine (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/2/). She focuses on the journey of a high school that seemed destined for closure, yet found its way to success.  Although the article is about an entire school, the lessons learned could certainly be applied to a middle grades team.

Here’s the story in bullets:

  • New Dorp High School was one of the 2,000 lowest performing high schools in the country.
  • Led by a determined principal, the staff identified poor writing as one of the reasons students were doing so poorly.
  • The staff was reluctant to look at their own practice.  The answer, they thought, was that the students were just lazy.
  • With the help of a persistent consultant-coach the staff dug deeper into what was holding students back.
  • They learned students couldn’t put together sophisticated sentences or coherent paragraphs.
  • Teachers began to reflect on their own practice.
  • Writing skills began to be emphasized in every class. Here is an example of how writing skills were approached: “By fall 2009, nearly every instructional hour except for math class was dedicated to teaching essay writing along with a particular subject. So in chemistry class in the winter of 2010, Monica DiBella’s {student} lesson on the properties of hydrogen and oxygen was followed by a worksheet that required her to describe the elements with subordinating clauses—for instance, she had to begin one sentence with the word although.”
  • Achievement and graduation rates have climbed.

This article details what happens when a staff focused on a common goal, collaborates.  They also were willing, eventually, to explore and change their own teaching practices. The result–students with a long history of mediocre skills and motivation began to perform at much higher levels proving they were neither dumb nor lazy.

Certainly a team could use some of the strategies described in this article as a starting point for addressing writing across the curriculum.  The bigger lesson, however,  is that when educators work together in a reflective manner toward a common goal, good things happen for kids.

For ideas on specific ways teams can collaborate to improve learning, check out Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success.

New Twist On Canned Goods Drive!

A sculpture of Pooh Bear made out of canned goods and jars of peanut butter

Pooh Bear

During the recent NELMS conference, the elevated walkway between the Westin Hotel and the Rhode Island Convention Center  was populated with whimsical sculptures of critters, earth moving vehicles, and angry birds. The sculptures, created out of canned goods, were part of a project to support the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

  Canned goods sculptute of a bulldozer

Teams could adapt this event for their own service learning projects. Often schools have canned food drives.  Why not have each homeroom or each team design sculptures out of the cans they collect and open the exhibit to the community for viewing as part of the plan to build awareness of the issue?  Or, the designs could be part of a project – based unit focusing on a driving question such as What is the long-term impact of hunger and starvation on a society? Part of the exhibition could include information and/or solutions the students have discovered through their research.

Several Common Core anchor standards could certainly be addressed in such a unit:

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  •  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  •  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

More importantly, students would be delving into a long-standing and relevant issue that affects every state and country. Think about taking your annual canned food drive to a new level!

  • Help your community
  • Build students understanding of a real-world problem
  • Involve students in seeking long-term solutions

Canned goods sculpture of a lobster in a pot.

Poster of categories in the Rhode Island project

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