I spent one whole day of my Spring Break 2020 in my yard. I know I have a lot to learn when it comes to taking care of my grass, trees, and garden. It’s not perfect but I enjoy the process. I like making things look nice. There is something about preparing, planning, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting in your own yard. It takes work, research, and action, and the result can be amazing. One of my favorite rewards for all of this work is pickling cucumbers.

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Pickling cucumbers are different from slicing cucumbers.

I also enjoy mowing the lawn. For me, it is a mindless task that provides me time to think or listen to an audiobook or podcast. The end product is almost always awesome too! It looks so great after it is freshly cut. However, my lawn is far from perfect. I know I have patches of orchard grass and crabgrass. It is frustrating because these different types of grass grow at different rates. The yard gets ugly really quickly. I try to remember to fertilize, pull noxious weeds, and not use too much water. It is a lot of work throughout the year. It’s a big task, mostly because of how much lawn I have.

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First mow of 2020.

Procrastination

Let’s get to the procrastination part. I have seen some pretty epic lawns in the neighborhoods that I have lived in. There are people who take a significant part of their week to fertilize, spot water, and do other things to grow a uniform, level, green lawn. If I were to expect that kind of work from myself the first summer that I moved into a new house I would be very overwhelmed. I wouldn’t know where to start. I would worry about things that I don’t know how to do. I would be afraid of making the lawn worse.

Students People are the same way. If we were in my high school English class, and I want students to write an argument essay, I will have a percentage of students not start. They aren’t hesitant because they don’t know how to write. They aren’t hesitant because they don’t have an opinion about the topic. They are hesitant to start because they are afraid of forgetting important parts. Maybe they aren’t confident with providing textual evidence. Maybe they don’t know how to add transition phrases. They don’t feel like they have mastered the process.

This is where students and others freeze. They see others being successful. They see other students writing with no hesitation, no problem. They see beautiful green lawns from a distance. They assume that if they can’t produce perfectly right off, they shouldn’t even try. For them, it isn’t worth the stress and thinking that is expected. Their thinking produces anxiety and they freeze.

My lawn has issues. There are bald patches because high points are cut too close by my mower blade. There are dying patches because of rodents. I can’t stop taking care of my lawn because of those deterrents. I need to focus on what is possible. My lawn will not get better if I hesitate. It needs to be mowed. It needs to be watered and fed. I can take baby steps and see progress.

Imperfect Action

I was in a virtual meeting the other day with a professional speakers group in the mountain west. The focus of the meeting was to address the issue of the global pandemic and what we can do to share our messages when we can’t present in public. One of the panelists, Tiffany Peterson, talked about imperfect action.

Imperfect action is starting without knowing how things are going to turn out. It is believing that you can achieve your end result without knowing exactly how it will happen.

In so many ways, whether participating in personal hobbies, new business ventures, pursuing more education or participating in online distance education like students today, people are hesitant to take action.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be perfect action. We learn by doing. We make corrections as we learn.  We adjust our process, collect more information, try new strategies, talk to people, all in hope of a better end product.

Imperfect action is better than no action. Starting with an idea is better than just sitting there. Complaining doesn’t do anything for anyone.

Identify the baby steps that you are capable of doing. Start somewhere. Don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the project. Pick something that you can do today.

Start today and keep trying

-Dave

A student made a video call during class today, again. But this time, I smiled. She’s done it before, against my classroom rules. Today however, she was learning something.

We Worry

How can I engage students who spend a fair amount of time on screens? Before I became a teacher, I went to a technology conference looking for ways to incorporate technology into my lessons. At the time it seemed like the only apps and devices available had to do with online quizzes and reading eBooks. To say the least, I was disappointed. I knew that there would be no way to use devices in a way that would help my students enjoy literature and writing. It seemed unnecessary using computers just to use computers.

A Change of Heart

It turns out I wasn’t thinking about teaching with technology correctly. As teachers, we sometimes think students will be entertained by new apps, or that they need more time in front of a computer to build or practice skills. Students will use technology in the classroom, but in the ways that they already do every day. Students don’t need to experience new apps as much as teachers need to use existing technology to engage students’ minds.

The Challenge

I invited students to learn something new. I wanted them to take ownership of their education, and give them the confidence that they can do it. I wanted to show them that the skills we work on in English apply to life.

A few months ago I had students create a free blog. No more book reports, just writing about what they read. Sure, that’s relatively new technology, and it’s not much different from Instagram or Snapchat.

Now, they are learning how to write for an online audience. They know how to embed pictures and videos, and create hyperlinks to videos and other websites.

Technology in Action

This assignment was to learn something new over a week, and document (through writing, picture, or video) what they learned, and where they found the articles or videos that helped them. They could also talk to people that they know and learn from them. My first thought was that they would just use YouTube or a parent to learn something and then write about it, and maybe take a picture of the end product (or bring cookies to class). Or, if they learned a trick or dance move that they could film, they’d get a short video and create a link to it.

One girl in particular video-called a friend. She wanted to learn how to sign a song. She got help from a friend whose mother is deaf. She could ask questions, show her the signs to see if she was getting it right, and then move on to the next part of the song. It is a great use of technology, and she can show how she learned something new. She can write about how it worked, and what could have been better. I was impressed with something that had upset me before.

I haven’t yet seen their reflections on their learning, but I’m excited to see what my students produce about what they have learned. I’m sure it will be a great conversation.

Takeaways

  1. Authentic learning is interesting to students.
  2. Authentic writing is interesting to read for teachers.
  3. Solid teaching practices take some time setting up and training, but pay off with multiple forms of assessing student learning.

What about you? Have you tried anything like this? I’d love to know what you’re doing in your classrooms with technology.

Read on!

-Dave

Like every other skill, writing is something that will not get better without practice. That idea is probably obvious, but how does a student absorb instruction from the teacher? Even if an English teacher or tutor demonstrates how to write an argument, it is often difficult for the student to watch and then do.

Why Write Argument?

When I say argument writing, most students think of arguing. Argument writing can simply be informing the reader about a subject, and supporting the claim with reasons. Writing this way  is a skill that is valuable in a variety of careers. It’s also a skill that many people never have to use once they leave high school. Writing is an extension of thinking, but they’re not synonymous. It would be a weird world if we were to write like we speak. When people speak, we have multiple chances to explain what we mean so long as the people we are talking to stick around to listen. However, when we write we only have that one chance. If we have a point to make, or something to explain with the desire to convince others we have to be clear. It sounds like a big job, but it’s doable.

Graphic Organizers

Most English or writing teachers will use some form of graphic organizer to help students outline what they’re writing about. For some students a simple outline will help them get organized and write. Others need to see exactly what they are doing step by step. Many graphic organizers will be directing students in the same direction by providing boxes or ovals where they can write their thesis, supports from articles, and their commentary about why those quotes or supports make their thesis true.

It looks something like this. I’ll use smartphones as an example.

Thesis or claim:

Android smartphones are better than iPhones.

Evidence, reasons, or supports from articles:

1. There are more types of Android phones to choose from.

2. Android phones are a better value. Cost for features is better.

3. Android phones are more customizable.

For beginning or intermediate writers, the most difficult part of writing is often validating or explaining how the evidence supports the thesis.

This is where we focus on commentary. Explaining how Android smartphones are better than iPhones is obviously opinion, but there are facts for both sides. I could easily argue that iPhones are better than Android phones. The point here, is to explain why I used the reasons or evidences I did.

Evidence # 1 – There are more types of Android phones to choose from. There are many different manufacturers who make a wide variety of smart phones. Some are smaller, and might work better for younger users. Some have better cameras so people can take professional quality pictures. There’s a phone for every need. Some Android phones have bigger screens so people can watch movies anywhere. If a person is on a budget, or a phone gets broken, it is easier to replace an Android phone with something that is affordable. iPhones have different sizes, but they’re all the same, and they’re all expensive.

The idea behind explaining the evidence, or making commentary, is the “so what?”. I made the claim, and you might say so what? So I explain my thinking, or my reasoning.

Writing Is Like Sports

Sports commentators do something similar to writing during every game. They make a statement about a player, or a play during the game, then try to explain or validate why they said what they said. They will talk about the players abilities, their past performances, and their potential future in the sport. When the commentators make a claim, they immediately back it up with their response to the “so what?” question.

Writing is just like having a conversation with someone, but the writer never gets to see the other person. It’s challenging because when we are writing, we have to anticipate what the reader won’t understand. We have to try to think of their questions and answer them in our writing.

This is a simple outline and description for writing. The easier this gets, the more you can customize your writing to what your teacher or professor is looking for. Some writing will require more evidence and commentary, others will be very straight forward summaries.

Write to be understood, read to understand.

-Write on, Read on!

Dave

I’ve been working to build a studio/office for the WRC. The building is already there, but I’ve been finishing one area. I’ve framed a wall, insulated it, sheet-rocked it, and there’s still so much to do before I can start producing video tutorials for this website. The short answer is, things always take longer than you expect. Whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish, it takes more time than we think. Our brains aren’t very good at estimating the time it takes to accomplish something long term, particularly if it’s something you’ve never done or hardly ever do. I’ve framed a few walls, but I’ve never planned, purchased materials, and finished everything on my own. It’s taking forever! But, I love it! Knowing what will come from this work makes it all worth it.

Learning In Chunks

Learning how to write better, or teaching your child to read takes time and practice. If you’re using a lesson book, you might have to break lessons or chapters into chunks as to not overwhelm your child. Progress happens in little pieces over time. Big chunks of accomplishment are rare. We need repetition to remember things. We need to see things in context to see what they really mean and how they relate to other things. We need to compare our previous experience with the new things we’re learning. It simply takes time.

Character Flaw?

It can be very frustrating and disappointing if you or your child don’t feel success. It seems inevitable that we start comparing ourselves to other people. Particularly in school or at work we see other people who can do something that we struggle with. Your lack of ability is not a character flaw. Your child’s struggles are not character flaws. Our value is not determined on what we can or cannot do.

Learning To Walk

If you or your child doesn’t know how do something, it can be learned. Not always easily, and maybe not always exactly, but eventually. Think about when a child learns to walk. Do we expect them to give up? Do we see them falling and say, “Well, I guess this one isn’t a walker.”? No, obviously if they’re trying to learn how to walk, they will eventually get there with our support and encouragement. Isn’t it so wonderful to see a child struggle, persist, and eventually walk?

The Future

The future is all about possibility. What will you accomplish? What is your potential? What is your child’s potential? We all hope to have some kind of impact on the future. If we think our worth is pinned to what we are capable of doing, we give up. We quit aiming for our dreams. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t let time slide by while you think you’re not capable. Don’t let time disappear while you decompress and watch a movie. Growth takes stretching. Development takes work and often, sacrifice. What can you give up for your future? What can you do to achieve your potential? What are you willing to do today, simply because it helps you grow?

You can do it. Whatever it is, make time for it. Practice, build, paint, do it a little bit every day.

You can do it. You have potential! Do it!

Read on!

-Dave

 

Writing is a skill. It doesn’t matter how old your child is. To become better at writing they need to practice. So, how do they practice? It all depends on their age and the purpose of the writing. It also depends on whether you were thinking about penmanship or actual writing ability.

Penmanship and Handwriting

Penmanship is a disappearing art. Many schools find that it takes too much time from the day to practice writing legibly. There are so many things to learn! Some argue that the art of writing is disappearing as technology takes over more avenues of our communication. Of course, if we spend more time typing and texting, penmanship is an unnecessary skill. But, is there something that we’re losing as we migrate toward faster communication?

We are creating a disadvantage for students who don’t practice handwriting. There are many studies and articles about the things that we benefit from through handwriting. Posted in 2016, this article from psychologytoday.com covers some of the benefits of handwriting, along with some other scientific references that support handwriting.

Elementary School

As students begin school and learn to write, they realize that just like speaking what they think they can write what they think too. It just takes longer for the writing process. It’s a good thing, though. Thinking about what you are going to write down on a page helps you to solidify in your mind what you are really trying to say. If the writing assignment is too easy, scribbles or chicken scratch happens. Even the student can’t decipher what they wrote 30 minutes ago. Being deliberate in writing takes time, focus, and confidence in the message that is being written.

Practice writing to different questions or writing prompts. Take time to think about the answers, or what you are trying to get your child to write. Write with your child. Show him or her what the process looks like. Talk about what you’re writing and if you can, what you’re thinking while you’re writing.

Middle School

Middle School is tough. There are so many things that can be distractions for your student. You know this, right? Writing assignments have to be high-interest, or the product is mediocre. If you’re practicing with a middle-schooler, let them write on any topic that they like. Really. Even writing about what is so frustrating about writing might be rebellious enough for him to “buy in”.

High School 

Something happens for high school students. It’s like they realize that they know how to write, and that they have a vocabulary that doesn’t match their after school single-syllable parent-child conversation. There are more opportunities for students in high school to practice writing. They might have multiple classes that expect essays. They have a variety of opportunities to explore poetry, creative writing, and essays. They can think about their writing and what they’re missing. They can look at what they’ve written, and figure out what is missing, or what can be improved.

The Outcome

If anyone is going to get better at doing something, it is going to take practice and feedback. In order to really understand how an argument essay works, students need to write multiple essays on multiple topics. I once heard it said that students need to practice writing 5 essays for every one that the teacher is able to read and give good feedback on. That’s a lot of writing! If your student is going to be a good writer, it takes time, and practice. And, of course, the better you write, the better you read.

Write on! Read on!

-Dave