Reflecting

Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching is reflecting. There is no “perfect” teacher, which is probably why I spend most of my sleepless nights thinking of ways to improve my craft. It’s not surprising that I am unable to catch a few zzz’s because my brain is forever on teacher mode. Thankfully, I’ve discovered melatonin works wonders when I actually do want to get some sleep!

Even though I’ve been teaching middle school for over a decade, I still lament on what I can change to make the educational experience my students receive the best one I can give them. I knew this school year would be special, in that my sixth graders will be the first ones to graduate eighth grade from my school. Also, I could potentially be their teacher for three years. Looping with students is a great way for teachers to see just how much impact they have made with individuals and while I’m excited to see my students grow, I’m also proud of the growing have done as an educator.

Some things that worked in 2016:

  • Classroom Library Fixer-Upper: As a literacy teacher, a library is perhaps the most important space in the classroom. However, for years, my library lacked books, character, seating and was what the kids would call a “Hot Mess.” So, I began the task of sprucing up and organizing my library and I hoped it would cultivate a classroom full of readers. And…it worked! I even made it look appealing, which makes all the difference to a classroom of pre-teens. My students are book-crazy, which makes me enjoy purchasing books for them. Over the break, I bought all the Twilight books because many of them read the Twilight graphic novel I bought and requested the print books 🙂
  • Tracking Reading Progress: I began using this reading log as a way for students to track their progress with books. Not only were students excited about creating (and achieving) their reading goals, they were reflecting on their reading. With a hearty curriculum that doesn’t always lend itself to specific writing instruction, the reading logs ensure that my students are writing every day.
  • Assigning Homework: I used to assign homework every night. Then, I would spend my entire planning period the next day checking homework and writing homework notices for students who did not do the homework. I would then spend a good portion of class reviewing the homework. Sound exhausting? It was. So I stopped. I now only assign homework a few nights a week. I’m still trying to step away from worksheet-type homework and only use it when it reinforces a skill from class. My goal for 2017 is to have students write more for homework and do so on Google classroom, where it’s easy for me to give the instant feedback they crave.

2017

Some things I’m excited to try in 2017:

  • Mentor Sentences: I read this blog post and realized that mentor sentences could definitely fit into my practice, especially since my students do not have a designated writing class or grammar curriculum. I have always struggled with teaching grammar because grammar is rarely in anyone’s curriculum anymore. Some teachers graze over it, some teach it in-depth, and some avoid it. Thus, by the time students get to me in middle school, their grammar knowledge is all over the place.
  • Reading Workshop: I have typically taught whole-class books (although every section does not necessarily read the same book). However, while whole-class novels can be a great way to engage readers at the beginning of the year, the whole-class novels are difficult to sustain. I always have students who finish the book early, those who never finish it and those who actually follow the assigned reading. With reading workshop, I could do more literature circle activities with small groups of students and still do a whole-class read-aloud. While I have implemented literature circles in the past, reading workshop also allows space for guided reading groups. This semester, I will have a student teacher, a special education support teacher (and her student teacher) and possibly a reading specialist. With all of these adults in the room, I’m more confident that reading workshop will be a success!

Overall, the longer I teach, the more I learn that it’s okay not to be perfect. I’ve learned to slow down and not rush through materials just because the state or school says I have to. I take time to reflect and I give that same consideration and time to my students. Because in the end, I learn just as much from them as they do from me. Here’s to 2017 and all of the learning and reflecting that will come along the way!

 

The Power of Peer Editing

“Yessssss!!! OMG, I’ve been waiting for this!”

Comments like the ones above are what I heard when I announced that we were at the peer editing station where students check for conventions. Red pens in hand, they could not wait to tear apart edit their peer’s paper.

It’s natural to get some (tiny) enjoyment out of correcting others’ mistakes, and if you’re a tweenager, the high is likely 100x greater than if you’re a teacher who corrects grammar for a living.

While students generally enjoy the act of peer editing, I have yet to find a flawless way to go about the process. Although this year, I think I am very close.

I had been thinking about using peer station activities and purchased this one from TpT. However, after looking it over, I realized that it may need to be scaffolded for my students. Luckily, my co-teacher shared a peer editing station she used in the past. With a few tweaks, it ended up being a great introduction to peer editing!

 

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Peer editing in action!

Of course, being the first time I used stations for peer editing, there were some kinks that need to be ironed out for next time.

  • Rotating. I had students (not papers) rotate and we all did the same station at the same time. In the future, I hope to have different tables be different stations, but for the sake of going over criteria and setting norms, it worked quite well, although it appeared messy.
  • Skill/Knowledge Level: Some students were confused about thesis statements. They didn’t know what to look for. This let me know that in our next piece of writing, I need to make thesis statements a focus.

What worked well?

  • Green/Red pens. I had students use green pens to fix errors in capitalization, since that was a skill we had just studied. Red pens were used for other grammar errors. Next time, I will provide a list of editing symbols because even though we do a Daily Edit using the symbols each day, some students were a bit fuzzy on the symbols.
  • Reading different papers. In the past, students read one paper. With stations, they were able to read five different papers, which allowed them to see many writing styles, which will (hopefully) help them in the future!

How does peer editing work in your classroom? Let me know in the comments!

The Grammar Files

Growing up, grammar was something that was explicitly taught. I specifically recall my ninth grade English class when it comes to grammar instruction. While we read literature (Great Expectations comes to mind), the teacher devoted a good portion of class time to grammar instruction. After ninth grade, we were apparently supposed to know everything we needed to know about grammar because it disappeared from my English courses.

I thought I had a pretty good understanding of grammar – until college where I was forced to take a class called “Grammar and Usage.” It was the only “C” I ever earned in college. But now I am able to diagram sentences! Wait – when do I ever do that?!

Never. I never diagram sentences. Nor am I ever asked to point out the gerund, preposition, or infinitive.

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Grammar is something I’m passionate about, but just how much of it do today’s students need to know in order to be avid readers and writers?

I’ve worked at four schools over the course of 12 years and none of them incorporated grammar into the curriculum. When I tried to teach the basic parts of speech, I found that student knowledge was all over the place. Some of my students’ previous teachers clearly thought grammar was important, but others did not. So half of my class knew what I meant when I said, “Add adjectives to your writing,” while others stared at me blankly.

I have always struggled with teaching grammar  – what do I teach? How do I differentiate instruction when student knowledge is so varied?

I have tried mini-lessons, but sometimes those are more than mini in that they often take longer than 10 minutes due to students having questions. For some, if it’s the first time being exposed to the material, I have to back-up and teach the basics. Before I know it, class is over and all we did was silent read and practice how to find verbs in sentences.

I’ve also assigned grammar as homework. However, the students who already know the skills end up completing it in record time while the students who are confused copy the work on the bus to school.

Is grammar important? Yes and no. I believe that students can organically learn much of what they need to know about sentence structure, parts of speech, comma placement, etc. by reading. But of course, not all students are wild about reading. (Those who are, I find, are typically the best writers in the class. But that’s another post!)

So this year, I’m trashing my mini-lessons. I’m revamping my curriculum and teaching grammar that matters. I’m asking myself questions, such as, What grammar skills will help my students become better writers? How can I infuse grammar instruction with the teaching of literature?

So while learning the parts of speech is something I likely won’t be spending time on this coming school year, you can bet my students will learn how to liven up their writing by using adjectives. You can also bet your bottom dollar that they will not be reading sentences and underlining adjectives; instead, they will create the sentences themselves. Grammar instruction should be meaningful and useful.

No one diagrams sentences these days. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson I learned from my college grammar class.

Throughout the year I’ll post “The Grammar Files,” which will discuss my triumphs (hopefully) and tribulations with grammar instruction. I welcome your feedback!

Do you teach grammar? I’d love to hear your ideas!