Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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writing

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Last week I had the pleasure of running a lab site in an Enumclaw 5th Grade class as part of my work with the district over the past couple of years. It’s a lesson that I first taught in 2009 and is still as relevant today as it was then.

The students were working on opinion writing. They were writing in Google Docs which made it easy to have students peer edit with their editing partner. At the same time, there was an opportunity to have them experience commenting not just on someone you know and are in class with, but also learn to leave a comment on someone you don’t know and probably will never meet. That is a whole new level to commenting.

So here’s the lesson….it took about an hour:

  • Have students share their opinion writing with their editor buddy giving them “comment only” rights to their document. (Students in this class had shared their writing with their partner before….this time we change the permission to be “comment only”).
  • Take time to read your partners writing and leave comments on their work.
  • Now close your computer and have a discussion about the difference between a compliment and a comment.

What a great conversation to have with students. We started listing what makes a compliment and what would be a good comment. The image to the left shows what the students came up with. We then talked about how you might give both to someone. Everyone likes compliments but they don’t really help the author with their writing. But if you make a compliment/comment sandwich you can do both! So we practiced in table groups what a good compliment/comment sandwich might sound like.

An example:

“I really enjoyed reading your post. I am wondering if you could add more details when you talk about the house. I couldn’t quite see it in my head. I really like the way your story ended, it made me laugh”

The day before the lesson I went to Twitter and did a search for #comments4kids 5th to find 5th grade classrooms that were blogging and looking for comments from others. In no time at all, I found the two following classes:

We took the links from the tweets and put those into Google Classroom for the students to have. Once we finished our conversation on compliments and comments we had the students open their Chromebooks, click on the links and practice writing compliment/comment sandwiches on other 5th graders writing. This lead to some more great discussions:

  • What do you put in the name field and why using your first name only is OK when leaving comments.
  • If you don’t think their writing is very good what do you do? What do you say? Or do you not say anything?

My favorite part of the day was as we were debriefing the activity, I asked the students what it was like to leave a comment on someone you have never met before?

“Weird” was the best we could come up with. We unpacked weird to be not knowing the person, not being able to explain yourself, and you didn’t want to hurt their feelings because you don’t know them.

A compliment/comment sandwich isn’t new. In fact, it’s a strategy for writing emails as well. I’d even call it a digital literacy strategy that can be used whether you are leaving comments on writing, on others blogs or any digital writing where someone can’t see you physically. It’s a great strategy to start teaching kids. Again…nothing new here I know….just thought I’d share my lesson for others.

A few weeks ago a Bill was introduced here in the State of Washington that would make teaching cursive writing mandatory in elementary schools. Not keyboarding….no in 2016 that should still be optional. But cursive writing…that should be mandatory in 2016. Below is the report from the local news station here in Seattle.

cursive

 

I can’t tell you how frustrated I am we are still having this debate to the point that we’re willing to make it mandatory at the state level! If you want to make something mandatory to learn in 2016, I mean true foundational skills that students need to have in order to be productive citizens, let’s start with:

  • Know how to type at 60 words per minute by the end of 8th grade
  • Know how to compose an email to a variety of audiences

typingThose are two way more important skills that need to be taught in our schools. In my opinion, these are worth taking valuable class time for. I have been talking about this since before 2009. Why are we moving backwards? Why are we talking cursive in a state that is moving towards the state standardized test being only computer based!

To take this a step further, I happened to be subbing in a 5th grade class on Monday (Feb. 1st). I was lucky enough to be in a class where the teacher basically said….they are your’s today..have fun! I love subbing with freedom!

I asked the class this question:

Should you be required to learn how to write in cursive?

We had a discussion about it. Then we watched the above video, did some thinking routines and got to work writing our persuasive pieces on why they thought they should or shouldn’t have to learn cursive writing in school.

The school I was at had iPads that were so locked down that they frustrated all of us (teachers included). There was no writing app on them except the built in Note App, which was buried in a folder called “Not to play with”. Once we all got on the app and starting writing (that took 10 seconds), I couldn’t get them to stop. It’s amazing what happens when you ask kids questions that they feel really matter to them and that they can have a voice in. Of course I ran into an issue when it came time to get their writing off the devices. There was no email connected to the iPads so they couldn’t email me their writing. This also made me have to adjust my original thought which was; we were going to email all of their thoughts to their representatives (seeing in Social Studies they were learning about the revolutionary war and the Sugar and Stamp Acts I thought them having a voice in their learning was a great tie in).  They couldn’t print it as there was no printer hooked up to them. So this cart of iPads was pretty useless….don’t worry they all had installed and easily accessible on the home page the testing apps the district uses.

Here’s the thing…none of this bothered the kids. They were so happy just to get to use them for something else besides testing that they didn’t care what for. Of course there’s always a way to get your writing off the device. Thanks to this thing called a smartphone that has a camera we solved the issue rather easily.

So instead of me telling the Washington State Congress how crazy of an idea this is…I thought I would let 5th graders make the argument for me.

cursive1

cursive2

cursive3

cursive4

cursive5

 

 

As you can read not every student thought that they shouldn’t learn cursive. Some thought it was still worth learning. Actually it was 2 out of 20 in the class that believed they should still learn cursive. Oh…that was our math learning for the day. They were learning fractions so we learned that 2/20 or 1/10th of the class believed we should still learn cursive or 1 out of 10 in ratio terms.

So we spent our day learning around one simple, compelling question….and to quote the students “Cursive? So 1700s!”

You know how somedays you look through your PLN feeds and you can’t find anything really interesting? That was yesterday for me…but then there was today….

Here’s one….

Google Embeds Engineers as Professors

A great article on how different tech companies are taking different approaches to get minority students at all levels more involved in tech related fields. Google’s approach is interesting….taking some of their engineers and using them as professors…is Google trying to tell us something about the professors that teach these courses? Is what is being taught not what tech companies are looking for?

Maybe…..but then I started reading this article and I can’t help but be frustrated by what is being taught at a university level that should be being taught in elementary through high school.

Let’s start with this:

They taught introductory courses, but they also trained students on everything from how to send a professional email to how to make it through a software engineering job interview, which can involve a lot of time solving coding questions at a white board.

Two questions for you to ponder:

email1. Where are we teaching students to “send a professional email“? Isn’t this a skill that can be taught? Should be taught starting in elementary school? Our society today is an email society….so why is there no where in any school curriculum a place where email writing (for a variety of purposes and audiences) is being taught to students? What does this need to REPLACE in our writing curriculum?

2. Solving questions on a white board and being able to talk through the process with others. Do we have students talk through the process of solving their problems? “Please make sure you show your work” is not the same as “Can you please solve this problem for us and explain what you are doing as you do it…what are you thinking, where might you get stuck…what do you do when you do get stuck?

Two questions I’m asking myself today. Actually the first question I have been asking schools lately. Everyone agrees we should be teaching students to send emails, to write emails for a variety of audiences but I have not found a school that is REPLACING this type of writing in their curriculum. It’s not even replacing the skill really…it’s changing the medium. Write a letter to mom and dad or write an email to mom and dad. In email you don’t indent, in email you have a subject line that is important, you don’t have that on a paper letter.

We need to start REPLACING, changing out medium for the new…or then again maybe not…as they’ll learn how to do this in university….if they happen to go to a school with a professor from Google.

Typing in grade 2 by jutechtI have had a few conversations the past couple of days on what is the thinking on typing skills and teaching typing to students. Most schools that I know of do not have a typing curriculum like we would have a writing curriculum. If you do….that is fantastic and I’d love to see it, but to my knowledge most schools relay on teachers to “fit in” typing with students when and were they can.

Then comes the other issue that students today have grown up with technology and computers. By the time students are 6 and in our schools most of them have had numerous hours with computer devices. Whether it be a computer keyboard or a Nintendo DS, they are growing up being wired to input into a machine. If we start teaching them typing in middle school are we to late? Have they already developed habits that work for them? Last year I saw a 9th grade student who had one finger on each row. Example: Left hand: EDC Right hand: IJN and could type somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 words per minute. When I asked where she learned to type like that she just shrugged and said “I don’t know…it just works for me.”

This isn’t our generation

Our generation did not grow up with computers. Marc Prensky would classify me as a “Digital Native” (by 1 year and proud of it!) yet I learned to type on a typewriter in high school. Well, half the time anyway. We did learn how to use a computer…Macintosh Classic….but we were not able to take a timed test on them because we could “cheat” and use the back space key.

This generation not only has grown up with the backspace key but is use to having spell check and a dictionary at their fingertips every time they write anything. The world has changed and I’m not sure our curriculum has caught up with it.

My Belief

Typing in grade 2 by jutechtSo here’s my belief and my belief along as I’ve watched elementary students closely over the past four years. We should not be teaching typing as we learned it…home row keys, etc. Instead we should be exposing students to the keyboard as much as possible and allow them to develop typing techniques that work for them.

The two pictures in this post are of third graders just two days ago as we opened up laptops for the first time and were exploring programs…one happened to be Type to Learn Jr.. As you can see they have already developed there own typing techniques and continue to find and explore ways that typing works for them.

I see it much the same way we learn cursive. We were all exposed to proper cursive in school yet I would bet not one of us follows the proper techniques of cursive writing today. We all develop our own style that works for us. We were exposed to the cursive form enough to understand how it works and then we create a style that works….making each one of our signatures unique and different.

So here’s what I believe:

  • We should expose students to the keyboard as much as possible!
  • Every student starting in Kindergarten should be exposed to a keyboard as often as possible. 15 minutes three times a week would be preferred.
  • In 1st grade the focus would be to have student use two hands on the keyboard.
  • By 3rd grade typing should be part of the writing curriculum. The time spent on cursive writing should be replaces with keyboard time (cursive writing is an art form and should be part of art…..my opinion and my opinion only!).
  • By 5th grade students should be required to turn in at least one type written assignment a week and spend no less then 120 minutes a week exposed to a computer keyboard.

I talked to a couple 6th grade teachers last week who both told me that they only have students type assignments to be handed in. That they have not accepted hand-written work for two years now.

What skills are we teaching in our elementary schools to prepare students for their future education?

Of course all of this is probably for nothing as if I was being futuristic I would talk about including texting and mobile device and touch screen typing. But then again….seeing that 30% of the 3rd graders at our school already have a cell phone…they probably know more about texting then we could teach them anyway. 😉

I’d love to get your feedback on this and the policy your school has or what your beliefs are when it comes to teaching typing to students.

It’s funny how when you spend time like I have the past 3 days to make a point to comment on others that you start reflecting and things start clicking.

I left a couple comments that ended this way.

I hate to write, but love to blog!

The question is why? I’ve never been a good writer, I’ve hated writing for as long as I can remember. With a learning disability writing and reading were like kryptonite to me. Was never a great Language Arts teacher, but I don’t think I was that bad…having struggled with writing and reading my whole life and being up front with my students about it actually, I think, helped those reluctant learners to keep trying and plowing forward.

So why is it that I hate to write and love to blog?

First, I think a lot of it has to do with the computer and word processing. As I type this in my Firefox extension Performancing every misspelled word is underlined in red for me, giving me instant feedback on what I have misspelled. Does it catch all my mistakes, heck no, but you should see a post before it actually goes live. 🙂

Secondly, I can type faster then I can write…about 75 words/minute and you can actually read what I’ve written when I’m done.

Finally, I don’t see blogging as writing…it’s idea generation, it’s the free flow of ideas between people and it is a conversation. I love to talk (if you have a hard time writing you usually do…coping skill). I would rather stand in front of a group of parents and give a presentation, or have a face to face parent conference than write a letter home. My wife is the exact opposite. She HATES (yes it needs to be all caps) giving presentations, and would rather write a paper than give a presentation.

Because blogging is a conversation, a idea generating machine (the way I use it anyway) it speaks to me. Sure sometimes my ideas are way out there, but that’s how we work through them, how we start conversations, how we move forward and continue to progress as a society. Blogging gives me an audience, just like giving a presentation…I almost feel that way sometimes…like I’m presenting information, my thoughts rather than writing. It could be a podcast, a video, or blogging…it’s about having an audience. I wonder if I would have blogged in school, given the chance? It would have depended, I bet, on how the teacher used it as a tool. Was it a reflective journal to layout your thoughts, or did every period, capital and ‘ie, ei’ combination have to be perfect. If that was the case I’d have hated it.

Blogging is different…it’s not writing in the sense we think about it. People ask me why I blog and I truly can’t give them an answer…I just do, because it’s an outlet for me. I’d bet that I’ve blogged more in the past year then I wrote my whole life leading up to it. It’s been that powerful for me as a tool, and I see it in my students as well. In myspace and youtube…this networking, conversation, sharing atmosphere is contagious!

[tags]blogging, education, writing, conversation[/tags]

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