Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Back-to-School Shirt

Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.

 

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This is the cover of a back-to-school Kohl’s catalog I received in yesterday’s mail.

 

  1. Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean. 
  2. Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
  3. Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
  4. Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.  
  5. Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
  6. Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
  7. You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
  8. Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
  9. Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
  10. Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.

 

 

If this post made you think click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more about my ELA classes. I’m a big fan of student writing contests, authentic writing, PBL and more. Thanks for reading!

 

Let Students Talk, Think, and Think Some More

Here’s what else I do to help students find writing topics they care about and then start writing

part 2 of 6

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Photo by Anton Darius | Sollers on Unsplash

I know from teaching middle school (6-8) ELA for a few years that, in order for students to be passionate about their writing, they must first have a topic that they care about. When they care, they won’t mind taking the time to struggle to get their ideas expressed effectively. They’ll  persevere through the thinking and writing (and rethinking and rewriting) that inevitably happens when they are truly engaged and committed to their ideas. In a previous post, I listed three ways I help my students find topics they care about. Here they are:

1) I give them lots of choices. If they don’t like any of the fifty or more prompts I offer, they can write about their own idea.

2) I regularly assign slice-of-life essays about the ordinary moments of life that, while small, reveal our humanity and common experiences.

3) I simply give students time to think.

The fourth thing I do to help students find a good topic is this: I let them talk.

Nothing builds enthusiasm as much as inviting students to share their ideas, connections, and memories. Writing ideas bubble up around the room as others share their experiences. I carry a dry erase marker on me at all times so I can rush over to the whiteboard and jot down a random idea like “snowboard life lesson thing” for Gwen or “spaghetti disaster” for Casey.

Usually, after they’ve talked for a while (about 15-25 minutes), I’ll notice students here and there pulling out pen and paper to start writing. I use that as my guide. I make a quick announcement that it’s time to start writing. I invite them to grab a clipboard and find a spot on the floor around the room or at a table where they can be productive. Many choose to stay at their desks. If they sit with a buddy, they must still be productive.

Then I turn off the fluorescent lights and flip on the white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. It creates an inviting glow that signals it’s time to settle in for writing.

Those kids who pulled out their paper first to write will usually be my star students. Because I know those kids can easily dive right into writing, I make sure to keep an eye on those who may need help getting started. I let everyone know it’s okay if nothing gets written down that day, but the goal for the next is to have a semblance of an idea at the beginning of class. And then I let those strugglers stare at the wall some more. I pour out the patience.

One of the most introspective pieces ever composed in my classes was written by a student who stared at the wall for most of the class period. At first, I thought Joe was just biding his time, but when I checked with him, he told me he just couldn’t think of anything. So I let him stare.

The next day, he rushed into class with a sheet of notebook paper covered on both sides with some wonderful personal thinking about being young, making choices, and about how it can actually feel bewildering to have so many options in life. A truly interesting piece with ideas I never expected this student to harbor. In fact, I still keep a copy in my “Why I Teach” binder. Rereading it reminds me that I should be patient when discussion doesn’t ignite everyone’s imagination right away.  Some kids just need more time to think.

The next steps I take with my students will be discussed in an upcoming post. I’ll be finishing that soon. Click the “like” button and share on social media if this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment and don’t forget to follow me to catch that post! Thanks for reading!

 

2017 Branson Tech Institute: My Takeaways

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An added bonus to attending the Branson Tech Institute was meeting and getting to know three teachers who are new to Kirbyville Schools. From L to R: new KMS science teacher Andrea Hoskins; me; new KMS special services teacher Shelby Ross; and new music/band/honor choir teacher for both KMS and KES, Phyllis Brixey.

I attended Branson Tech Institute, an educational technology conference, July 17-18 at Branson High School. The Branson School District extended invitations to attend the conference to area schools, including my district, Kirbyville R-VI. (Thanks to my district for paying my registration fee!)

About a dozen different classes were offered during each of nine sessions. Classes were categorized into grade level and subject areas. The district also provided a single link on Google drive for the presentation materials, handouts and links from all the sessions. A gold mine! Here’s a list and brief description of the sessions I chose to attend.

Chromebook Cart Management: This was a refresher course presented by Branson faculty member Kim Good. It showed me ways to keep my own computer cart organized in my classroom. Good news! My school already does what she recommended!

Google Forms: Quizzes, Data Collection & More: Presenter and Branson teacher Courtney Brown taught the basics of Google Forms. Even though I have attended other classes on Forms, I still don’t use it regularly in my classroom. However, I feel that this will change this year. I will be having students complete one on the first or second day of school this year. I’ll use it to give me an update on students’ writing style and interests, and home Internet access.

Curating Great Resources for ELA: Presenter Melody Alms taught this course on internet resources specifically for teaching ELA. My biggest take-away: CommonLit.org, a fantastic site for fiction and nonfiction literacy resources. So much to discover!

Twitter for Beginners: Even though I have started to more actively use Twitter this summer, this session taught by Katie Kensinger taught me some basics that I just didn’t know. By the way, I only have one Twitter account (many teachers have both personal and professional accounts). My Twitter account includes shares from this blog and my personal writing blog; my profile includes links to both blogs. I only tweet about topics related to my writing and teaching.

Social Media in the Classroom: This course focused on the use of Instagram in the classroom. Branson teacher Sarah Yocum shared her private class Instagram account and procedures. Very interesting. I had toyed with this idea previously this summer based on an Instagram post made by a former student. Read about that here. As a result, I have started my own private account for my ELA classes at Kirbyville Middle School. You can see my first four posts in the sidebar of this blog. I envision posting photos for writing prompts, writing tips, class photos (with parent permission, of course).

Parents, students, and my Kirbyville colleagues may request to follow the account; however, I don’t follow anyone in return. Students must have a parental permission form signed before they can follow the account.

Because not all students have Instagram (especially in middle school), students won’t “have to have” access for assignments; the class Instagram will be supplemental. Posts that must be seen for an assignment will be on the smartboard in class or given on a handout. This will be just a new way to interact with students in a medium they are comfortable with.

EdPuzzle: This class taught about a free interactive site that allows the teacher to select a video and then edit it, thereby tailoring it to their instruction.  The program also contains analytical tools to evaluate student progress and mastery. While I found this very valuable, it seemed to require more time to learn than I am willing to invest at this time.

ESL — Modified and Meaningful Instructions with Technology: This class was focused for literacy coaches and provided a wealth of information and resources that I need occasionally as I interact and teach students for whom English is their second language. I wish I had learned this material about two years ago when a Spanish-speaking student who knew no English entered my classroom. Biggest takeaway: We must provide our ESL students with the common speech alternatives to academic terms, even going so far as providing them English vocab tip sheets for them to access when doing assignments and tests.  For example, there are many synonyms that are helpful to know when we talk about addition in math class. Some of these are how many altogether, sum, plus, add it up, and others.

GoFormative: This session discussed the use of this tool that evaluates learning of all students. Found at goformative.com, this site lets teachers create instant quizzes over videos and material you select to teach. I could possibly use this for reading comprehension checks and vocabulary lessons.

Green Screen and Stop Motion: Taught by Paula Bronn and Kari Houston, this class gave teachers the basics of incorporating dynamic and exciting presentation options for kids. I can see kids producing professional presentations from exotic locales (based on the images they find to project on the screen). The possibilities are really endless and it’s hard to wrap my mind around all that could be achieved with this tool. Added bonus of this session: I learned I don’t actually need a green screen. Green paper will suffice. The only hardware I would need would be an Ipad and a tripod. They even showed us how to make stop-motion videos with claymation and Lego figures. Here’s the main site I would check out first: Doink.

Poster Sessions: On Tuesday morning of the event, all sessions hosted a table in the commons area. Each attendee was given a card to have initialed by the presenter at each table. One goal of the poster sessions was to get the initials of 15 presenters to win a door prize (I won a drawstring backpack). However, the biggest goal of the poster sessions was simply to give attendees a chance to gather information on sessions that they didn’t actually take a class for, due to time constraints.  Smart idea and very beneficial!

To conclude, my greatest takeaway from the entire conference is to make sure that technology propels a student’s education forward.  Technology is an incredible gift, IF teachers use it intelligently, effectively and efficiently.

In other words, technology doesn’t always win against tried-and-true tools such as pen and paper, but being informed about technology’s benefits and potential uses does help me connect better with my students who have lived their entire lives surrounded by it.

When you return to your classroom before you’re required to return to your classroom

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I drove the twenty minutes to my classroom today to . . . start. There’s always a day or two (or three) before the big day when we’re required to return to school for in-service training.  On days like today, when I’m often working alone, I just begin. Here’s what I did, with the help of my husband for the heavy lifting:

  • returned all the furniture that had been moved to one side of my classroom by maintenance staff to its approximate place in the room
  • untangled a giant wad of electrical and computer cords that had also been moved
  • connected my computer back to its dock
  • set up the sound system
  • tested the speakers; played Ed Sheeran for a sound check; yep… sounds good
  • tested my smartboard
  • connected the document camera
  • put the desks into loose rows that will probably change before it all begins
  • helped a new teacher across the hall begin to get settled
  • made a mental note to purchase an oil diffuser like the one used by the same new teacher
  • rearranged my small black bookshelves
  • put the carpet down
  • uncovered the big bookshelves
  • stared inside my closet.  (But that’s all I did because it’s packed too tightly. Once I start unpacking it, there will be no going back.)
  • put some new stickers in my sticker drawer. (Never underestimate the value of a sticker.)
  • resolved to buy a new poster or two for my big poster wall
  • looked at some boxes of supplies and books I requisitioned last spring
  • decided to leave those boxes for another day

Now, I’m off to start a draft about Contest #4 That Works for My Students. Look for it tomorrow! Here’s a post about Contest #3. I love using writing contests in my ELA teaching.

If you enjoyed this post, click like and leave a comment. Follow my blog to catch that Contest #4 post! Thanks for reading.

Because bored students care about commas… and little else

Here’s what I do to spark passion in my students for writing

part 1 of 6

 

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Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

 

And let’s get this straight right from the start: I am no expert. I repeat, I am no expert. I have a meager six years of teaching under my belt. However, I am more excited than ever to be doing this job at age 51. (gulp) That’s why I want to reflect on and share what works for me in my classroom… and what doesn’t. I truly hope you’ll follow my blog and start a conversation so we can learn from each other. It’s good for teachers to do that. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Writing means knowing a bunch of rules, right? Comma rules. Spelling rules. Fragment rules. Capitalization rules. All these rules are very important to middle school students who are bored with writing. In fact, some students think writing is only about “the rules.” And the sooner they can get “the rules” right in their crummy, boring assignment, the sooner they can turn it in and move on with life.

Students are bored when they don’t care about their writing topic. Conversely, when students care about their topic, they don’t mind struggling to get it right.

Picture this: one of your students turns in a cleanly edited, yet incredibly boring and lifeless story. It’s another story about their dog, for example. Not one comma is out of place, not one word is misspelled. Everything looks great, but it’s just so… dull. That same day, another student turns in a poorly edited, yet thought-provoking and fresh essay. It’s a piece about self-image and social media. Yes, there was a run-on here, a capitalization error there, but you stumbled through it because the ideas were compelling and intriguing.

Besides subject matter, there’s one big difference between the dog story and social media essay. The essay can be revised, edited, and polished and still be engaging and original; however, the story, even though it needs no editing, will still require a major overhaul to garner interest from a reader. The commas are all there, but the ideas aren’t. In other words, just because the editing rules have been followed does not mean the writing is interesting.

So why did the student turn in the boring story? Because she didn’t care about it. She didn’t like the topic, the character she had created, who knows. However, the social media essay captured the heart of its author. This student had found a way to connect to the topic and, more importantly, discovered he had an opinion that needed and deserved to be expressed.

In order to get the freshest, most original, most thoroughly developed writing from my students, I must figure out ways to spark passion in my students for their writing topics. It’s my job to make them care about what they’re writing. It’s on me to send boredom out the door and down the hall.

Here are three  things I do in my 6-8 ELA classes to help my students find topics they’re passionate about:

  1. I give them lots of choices. Like gobs of choices.
    • I use this list of 401 argument topics from The New York Times. So many ideas! In fact, I often narrow the list down to fifty or so. Sometimes too many options are overwhelming. I also like to skim through the list to make sure the prompts I give my kids are age-appropriate since some of the prompts are for high school students and older.
    • I also use this lists like this one of 365 writing prompts from thinkwritten.com.
    • I keep digging to find more and more prompts. Here’s another site. Again, if too many options are just too many, provide fewer.
  2. I assign slice-of-life essays about the mundane, yet worthwhile, quiet moments of living. For ideas and plans from Two Writing Teachers, click here.
  3. Sometimes I simply give students time to think. Often, kids just aren’t used to sitting quietly and thinking. With smartphones and other devices, there’s always something else to do besides think. Let students stare at the wall and allow ideas to surface.

 

This is the first installment in a series of six on this blog about helping kids find writing topics that they’ll feel passionate about. And if they’re passionate, they won’t be bored; instead, they will care. As a result, they’ll spend enough time on their writing so it’s fleshed-out, fully developed, fresh, provocative, and true.

The next steps I take with my students will be discussed in an upcoming post. I’ll be finishing that soon. Click the “like” button and share on social media if this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment and don’t forget to follow me to catch that post! Thanks for reading!

#Engagement: Instagram is for Writing

 

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Used with permission. Credit: Audrey

 

A few weeks ago, Audrey, one of my former middle school students who’ll be a senior next year, posted on Instagram a photo of an essay she had handwritten. The essay showed Audrey’s ideas about adolescence, the validity of teenage relationships, finding one’s soulmate. The essay expressed her thoughts, and exhibited the kind of “thinking on paper” that teachers encourage in their students. It was a heartfelt and personal record of Audrey’s beliefs.

In the endless feed of landscape shots, selfies, and artistic images that compose Instagram, Audrey’s photo of her handwriting on a sheet of notebook paper stood out to me. It seemed to convey much more than her ruminations on soulmates.

It revealed…

  • that Instagram is being used by young writers to create and develop an audience for their written work. It’s not just for beautiful photos anymore.
  • that students are finding ways to blend traditional media with the new.
  • an unexpected juxtaposition of digital imagery and handwritten expression.
  • a surprising use of social media to work through and analyze one’s personal perspective on a topic

In ongoing discussions about the appropriate use of social media to educate, it’s good to keep in mind that when a student uses social media, they are often demonstrating the skills they have learned in school. I don’t know about you, but seeing confident young writers using Instagram makes me optimistic about the potential for social media in my middle school language arts classroom.

Of course, social media accounts must be administrated responsibly, using a district’s privacy and safety protocols. (Click here for a link to resources regarding using social media in schools and at home.) However, with best practices in place, social media sites such as Instagram hold promise because they provide an audience and generate feedback. Engagement abounds.

I’m considering a private classroom Instagram account next year. What suggestions, observations, or tips can you share? Feel free to post a comment or follow this blog for more ideas.

 

In middle school research, pictures are winning

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In the game of middle school student research, pictures are winning and words are losing. I have noticed increasingly that students, when they are researching a topic for a writing assignment, spend a lot of time not reading articles. Many spend their time looking at pictures. Or watching videos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed students scrolling down full screens of thumbprint images. Here’s a typical conversation we would have as I walked around the room and noticed students doing their research with Google Images.

Me: “What are you doing?”

Student: “I’m doing my research.”

Me: “What are you trying to find out?”

Student: “What gray squirrels look like.”

Me: “So why don’t you Google gray squirrels?”

Student: “I did.”

Me: “But Google it in web search and find articles.”

Student: “But I Googled it here instead and now I’m just looking at the pictures to find out what gray squirrels look like.”

And that got me thinking because the student had a point. I think. It made me wonder whether perusing images could be more authentic research than reading. So I had a debate with my selves: my old school self and my new media self.

Old school self: No, reading is better.

New media self: But couldn’t the result of reading simply be ingesting and recording what someone else has written about what gray squirrels look like?

Old school self: Yes, true, but don’t forget that in looking at all these images, you are just looking at what someone else has decided for whatever reason is a gray squirrel.What if some of them you’re looking at aren’t actually gray squirrels? How do you know they’re gray squirrels?

New media self: Well, in an article, how do we know the author actually knew what he was writing about?

Old school self: That’s why we choose authoritative sources. “National Geographic,” for example, instead of answers.com. 

Authoritative sources. There’s really the issue. It seems kids don’t know how to locate authoritative sources. Looking at images is easier. And then they get stuck. Scrolling endlessly through mind-numbing screenfuls of tiny images.

True, an exhausting variety of visual information, whether it’s the printed word, the image, or the video, simply comes with the Internet territory. So why not use it all to benefit our research? Perhaps.

The thing is this: I’m just afraid middle school students will take the path of least resistance and over-rely on images for the bulk of their learning every time they need to do research.

Your thoughts? Am I over-reacting or noticing a troublesome trend?