Monday, February 27, 2012

Some of the First Steps for Teaching Persuasive Writing in the 21st Century English Classroom

Most writers I teach find that the harderst part about persuasive writing is just getting started. Writer's block, uncertainty, or doubt, plague them and convince them that they will fail. So part of what I like to do is to give them loads of examples. I even encourage them to model their writing after the examples- steal the idea and make it their own!

One fantastic free resource for persuasive writing introductions is "The Writing Teachers Strategy Guide" by Steve Peha at Teaching that Makes Sense: The Writing Teacher's Strategy Guide Steve has a whole site full of best practices for teaching writing, but this is one of my favorite resources because it has loads of specific examples for attention getting introductions and powerful endings. I highly recommend all of Steve's stuff. He is fantastic.

 One of the most important parts of the introduction, after the attention getter, is the position statement- which is the thesis statement of the persuasive essay. I teach my students to outline the main points that they want to use to argue their position. Then, use those things like a list in a sentence to create the position statement. For example, if the topic is going green, and the main points are recycling, conserving water, and using fuel efficient vehicles, the statement might look like this: Recycling, conserving water, and using more fuel efficient cars are just a few of the ways that you can help keep our planet healthy.

The position or thesis statement is then a basic outline of the three main ideas that will be addressed in the persuasive essay. This is a fairly basic way to construct a position statement. With begining persuasive writers, it is sometimes best to keep it as simple as possible. Give them a formula that they can wash and repeat. Also, with the postion statement, I model, model, model. It may seem redundant, but there is often a lot of confustion that comes with writing a position statement. I show them examples, we write some together, and then they try it on their own. Photo Credit

Monday, February 20, 2012

Taking a Page From Finland: Where 21st Century Education Needs To Shift

If we are to see any real change for the better of our educational system and the students that benefit from it, we will need to have a shift in values. American needs to take a lesson from a country that is having success not by pushing high-stakes testing or merit-pay, but by focusing on what is truly best for the learner. BBC did a story about Finland's Educational Success.

The story portrayed a world of education far different from the one we experience in America. The curriculum in Finland emphasized relaxing and being comfortable in the classroom- taking shoes off and calling teachers by their first names. One teacher said she was the students' "school mom". It seemed to be a no stress, or at least low stress environment for all students. This fact is amazing considering that the Finland schools are some of the most successful schools in the world.

One of the stand out points of the Finland educational system is that the students were not compared to each other, and there were no failing students. Learning isn't a competition in Finland- there were no winners or losers. The collaboration and team work shown in the Finland schools is far different from America. In a classroom setting, three teachers were assigned to each class and one was especially designated to help the slower learners. All the students helped to teach each other; they worked to help students who were behind. Here in America the emphasis is on getting ahead and education becomes a competition. It's everyone for himself-"gotta be a winner". If a student needs help he is too embarrassed to ask- no one wants to be the dumb kid- the loser.

The Finnish culture is a big part of their successful education system. The way that they value education and hold it important to them is so different from America. They don't see education as just a stepping stone, or a job, or something to put on a resume. It is a valued part of their lives and their families. They embrace education as something beautiful, personal, and meaningful. There is no drill and kill. They spend the least hours in school of any country, and they perform the best. Another aspect of their success is the trust the people put in the schools and teachers- trust was emphasized. The parents and leaders trusted that the teachers would always do the best for their children. The teachers and parents worked together to educate the students. In America parents often don't take responsibility for the education of their children- they see it as the school's responsibility.

  Photo Credit

Thursday, February 9, 2012

21st Century Learning Skills Call for Overhaul

Inquiry and Project Based Learning are some of the catch phrases being thrown around to describe the shift that is happening in some classrooms around the nation. For me those terms can be boiled down to one thing. Choice- giving students the opportunity to learn what they want, how they want to learn it essentially creates inquiry and Project Based Learning. Which is something that I wish had occurred to me to do years ago, but I'm dealing with it!

One of the people who really influenced my thinking was a professor at grad school who introduced me to Sir Ken Robinson's "Changing Education Paradigms". The wheels had been turning up to that point, and then the rubber hit the road.

Not exactly rocket science, but for an average teacher it's a new way of thinking. Taking the emphasis off of using content to teach skills and turning the focus towards student interests and passions to learn those same skills takes work. Not just a little work, a lot of work.

My English classroom is in the midst of a major overhaul. Mostly it's happening in my brain, but it's spilling over into every aspect of my classroom. My old units are sometimes useless with this new way or thinking, and I need to create whole new units. Slowly, things are changing -one unit at a time, trial and error, success and failure. Together my students and I are learning what makes a successful English classroom.

Educational Needs: What's Really Important

Friday, February 3, 2012

21st Century Technology

The evolution of technology over the past decade has been staggering. Not only has it become much more cost effective, it has become an essential part of the classroom. To teach without technology these days is to do an incredible disservice to our students.

For me, living and teaching in a rural area has had its trials and triumphs in the area of technology. Trying to teach for years in a school with only one computer lab, shared between all grades as well as serving as the IT and business classroom, has been a struggle. It is only within the past few years technology updates to the classrooms have been taking place. Classrooms were receiving Smart-boards before they had access to computers for individual student use. Nice, but a little backwards.

Recently acquired net books have started to give classrooms the opportunity to really begin utilizing current technologies in the classroom. For example, we are experiencing, for the first time, the power of Google Docs to revolutionize how an English teacher and her students work. Today, my students and I worked on a document together. We were able to all work on the same document watching each other type and add comments and ideas. Students were oohing and ahhing over the technology that I'm sure other schools have had for years.

This not-so-new-but-new-for-us technology will cut down on paper use- no more papers to physically turn in. Writing to this point had been mostly old school pen and pencil work. It was hard to lay down any expectations for more when often students did not have access to computers at school or home. This year for the first time, we will share our documents and give each other feedback over the Internet. Not a new invention certainly, but a huge technological step for us here in rural USA.

I am hoping fervently that this trend will continue. Over the next couple of years, I hope that my students will be able to get more and more access to relevant technologies. I truly believe that these opportunities will provide an opening to a world of wonder and enjoyment of learning that some of these students haven't experienced since elementary days.