Having just finished my first year of teaching I find myself looking back at all of this lessons I learned this year, and there were a lot, and how I can change my curriculum next year to incorporate what I have learned. One of the most surprising things that I learned about 7th graders (at least mine) was that they have no clue how to write.
It all started with what I assumed would be an easy and straightforward assignment, write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the Aztec, Inca, and Maya civilizations. The first response I got, “Mrs. Medley this isn’t English class.” Of course I had to be smart and retort with “WHAT?! They told me I was teaching English!” After my lame joke received a few giggles I told the students that they would have to write in all of their classes eventually, so we might as well start now. I got my first hint that they had no clue what they were doing when someone asked what compare and contrast meant, and I had to stop and think to myself “Do they really not know how to do this?”
Looking back, I thought for sure I could have been a published author by grade 7 with all the writing that I had to do in grade school. Recently however, students in our district had gotten more instruction on how to take a multiple choice test rather than how to write a complete and grammatically correct sentence. With the new Common Core standards coming out, it seems that the trend may shift back to the way it used to be, and with the new Kansas Social Studies standards it is just as important that I do the same.
I spent the rest of the year trying to work on their writing skills, always with grumbles and poorly whispered comments about English class, and trying to find inventive ways to help them so it didn’t feel monotonous. They have also really been pushing technology in our district so I found 2 iPad apps that I thought would really help the students, and that they ended up loving. Socrative (which can also be used on computers) and Popplet both give students a fun and interactive way to write that goes beyond the traditional paper pencil method.
I started off using Socrative (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/student-clicker-socrative/id477618130?mt=8) as a way for students to learn what did and did not work as a complete sentence when writing paragraphs, and also how to complete short answer questions using a complete sentence. Teachers set up a “classroom” at www.socrative.com and they are then given a room number, which students use to log in (they don’t need to create a account). I used the short answer activity and connected my iPad to the SmartBoard so that students could see each other’s responses without knowing who they were coming from. I would pose a question to the students that required a one sentence response, they would type in and submit their answers, which would then show up on the screen for everyone to see. Once all answers had been submitted we could go through every answer as a class and talk about what worked in the sentence and what that student need to work on, constructive criticism without it getting personal because they don’t know who answered what. You can also send all of the answers back to each individual student, and they can vote which answer was the best. This was great for me to make sure that they were understanding what I expected in an answer.
I used Popplet (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/popplet-lite/id364738549?mt=8) when the students were writing longer assignments that either required research or some of their own ideas. It is essentially a web diagram that students can type in and import or draw pictures. I also used this when we were doing Venn diagrams, I would set up a popplet and display it on the SmartBoard with the requirements in each popple, or box, and the students would copy the layout of my popplet but put their information into the popples rather than the requirements that I had typed on the board. This app worked great because not only did they enjoy personalizing the popplet, but no paper was used and they easily had access to the internet for research as well.
I am spending this summer actively researching and adapting my curriculum to find more fun and inventive ways to get the kids writing and using technology. My poor students next year are in for “Read It, Write It Thursdays,” and they thought we were too much like an English class last year!