Da Struggle: Teaching At-Risk Students How To Write.

I would first like to apologize for finally taking the time to sit down and blog after months of a hiatus. To your disappointment, I am writing about the strugglez of teaching the kiddos of Beaufort how to write.

It has been occupying each moment of my working day for the past two weeks and is the first thing in some time that has sparked my flame to blog.

AND ONE MORE THING PRIOR TO ME CONTINUING, LOOK WHAT A FORMER STUDENT TAGGED ME IN ON FACEBOOK. 


OH, THE JOKES. BETTER YET, THE ACCURACY. 

As an educator, we all ought to incorporate writing in to our content areas.

Furthermore, as one in the English realms, we actually dream of perfecting our high school student's craft and drooling over the inspirational essays the compose. ​










EXPECTATION


REALITY

Fortunately for me, I am a product of the Beaufort County School District, from grades 7-12, and for my post secondary education, as well. That being said, I may have been a bit naive thinking I would hop into the profession and change the writing game, but at least I knew what I was getting myself into. It isn't as if I hadn't seen the type of writing my peers were producing in comparison to mine. 

Previous to attending Robert Smalls, I was educated K-6 in California.

According to USA Today, California is ranked number 21 in the Nation amongst to 50 states. Take a guess as to what South Carolina is supposedly ranked (notice, I say supposedly, because I know data can be a bit jinky. 


WHAT DO YOU THINK SC IS RANKED IN EDUCATION?


Oddly enough, this data I am about to share surprised me a bit. I had expected California to be much higher, and South Carolina to be even lower (as if 41 isn't low enough).

Anyways, just to confirm, South South Carolina and California only have a 5 state gap in ranking, as

CA is number 35 and SC is number 41. 

Looking a bit closer, the two aren't really that much different, statistically. 




BEFORE GETTING TOO SIDETRACKED...


I'd always just taken the assumption that I had more advanced reading and writing skills because I attended school in California for my primary education. However, I guess to the flip side, I am terrible at math. If the Cali education system was so high and mighty as I had assumed, I ought to be equally balanced in all areas and not solely reading and writing. 


BACK TO WHAT I'D MEANT TO FOCUS ON, THE TEACHING STRUGGLE. 

Early on, I realized students were truly struggling in writing. Kids can read, sure, physically pull the words off paper and express a summary of what they've read. Cross the bridge to the side of analysis, evaluation, or composing opinions-- and Lort. There is a struggle.

I'd initially been introduced to the education world with small group tutoring for seniors at Battery Creek. These were all students who were struggling in English class two months away from graduation. That being said, much of this could have been avoided if they had turned in more work. At the end of the day, prior to the grading shift switching the a lump sum of students grade to be made of 60% for summative assignments (test, projects, essays) and a smaller portion of 40% formative (classwork, homework, quizzes), if enough work was done, students would have been able to skate skipping out on the writing assignments that they feared to take on.

Nonetheless, much of my initial hands on contact with seniors was giving them 1:1 attention to complete a research essay that required them to use the MLA format, research a debatable topic and take a stance presenting where they stand. This seemed to be as if it were going to be a breeze, but for students to just get the paper set up in MLA format took about 30 minutes, at minimum. 

The actual process of actually writing, then incorporating their research, formulating actual unique thoughts, supporting those thoughts with quotes and explanation to connect all the dots, at times, was not even possible. To simple get 5 paragraphs on paper, regardless to information cited, punctuation, spelling, grammar, diction-- any of that, became enough for the teacher of record.

Granted, I was just a lowly tutor. I was there to make sure kids crossed the finish line-- not exactly  produce an army of well articulated writers. I suppose that is why I have a growing fascination with how low of expectations students get away with as far as writing goes, prior to entering high school.


IN 2014, AFTER TUTORING FOR A FEW MONTHS, I DELIVERED CANON IN JULY. 


I then, in August of 2014 was offered a position teaching full time at Batter Creek High, where I would be able to continue working with seniors, but as a full time teacher. This allowed me to move what I had been doing while tutoring into my own hands as a new wave of seniors full time reading, writing, and researching guide. 

I think it is safe to say, for those who had me while I taught at Battery Creek High from 2014-2018, we spend time reading and annotating British Literature and writing. Since I began teaching at TCL in 2015, I fell more obsessed with the writing process and how little we ship our students off to college actually knowing.

Oh, the English teacher guilt I have suffered wishing I had the tools and time to teach my student babies more.

It becomes quite the task for teachers to manage so many students and attempt to bring them from having elementary and middle school writing skills to that of entering a professors classroom prepared to compose an essay that would rate a passing grade in a matter of a year (or semester since we only get August to December or January to May with a semesterly wave of students now).  


AND I AM BEING HONEST, AS AN EDUCATOR I QUESTION MYSELF.



How do I get through a semester and teach...Reading strategies and comprehensionBritish LiteratureLiterally terms and Analysis Spelling, Grammar, PunctuationProper sentence writingProper paragraph writing Proper 5 paragraph and up writingMLA FormattingWorks cited, annotated bibliographies, and citingResearch conductionConnecting Literature to the real worldNon fictionCurrent eventsControversial topics like: race, gender, politics, and warVocabulary enhancementThe importance of precise dictionTechnology-- Microsoft word and PowerPoint, Google Classroom, Google Drive, saving, storing, sharing, and uploading files, website building, blogging, and email etiquette. College applications, financial aid info, FASFAOh, and hey, can you write me a letter of recommendation saying how awesome I am-- even if perhaps I am literally just a low-average student?

Oh, and hey, I will also be missing about 10-20 classes this semester. And coming late often.

Oh and hey, I also am not going to college and do not care about your class, but you're "cool," so I'll turn in work sometimes.

Oh, heyyyy, I didn't get to turn in my late work because well, I work, and take care of my siblings and cousins when I get off, and we don't have WiFi, and my data on my phone is up, so I couldn't do it on there either, and can I borrow a dollar?

This year I have been making my best effort to run a highly writing enriched class. After spending time tutoring, working summer school, teaching high school seniors, and college students, I know our high schoolers lack the fundamentals of composing a well developed piece. Of all things, that is where students struggle the most. Even if one can read hundreds of pages, comprehend all material, pass a multiple choice exam on that-- when it comes to articulating thoughts, analyzing material, locating evidence to support their ideas, and connecting dots for readers (while doing so int he proper format AND managing to actually keep the readers interest) must be a skill mastered early on.


THIS YEAR I HAVE THE JOY OF TEACHING FRESHMAN AND SOPHOMORES AT BEAUFORT HIGH.


Two weeks ago, on Friday, September 28, I collected a baseline data for required progress monitoring. Now, at this point, students had spent August to current time in my class, building writing fluency by doing daily writings between 1 paragraph to 1 page. These were to get students comfortable with writing-- simply getting thoughts to paper (well, really thoughts to tablets since we are paperless). 

I told students the writing would count as a quiz grade, which counts as 60% of their grade ad to put their best effort into just one paragraph, answering one question and citing evidence from the book to support their opinions.

 

STUDENT A SAMPLE FROM 9/28/18

It is pretty obvious that the tree is unreal. It’s just his big imagination, because he doesn’t see this tree outside or anything; he exclusively sees it in his bedroom. The novel says that, “The nightmare feeling was rising in him,turning everything around him to darkness,making everything seem heavy and imposible, like he’d been asked to lift a mountain with his bare and no one would let him leave until he did”(page).


STUDENT A SAMPLE FROM 10/11/18

A distraction is a something that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. Some teens will argue that they aren’t distracted by their cell phones. However students depend on cell phones for things such as: writing an essay and answering algebraic problems. Some even use their device for sharing test answers with the class by air dropping. In the article entitled "Help! I can't put down my Phone" it states that "When technology does everything, however, it's easy to become dependent on it"(Kaminski 9). If students didn't have their phone in class they wouldn't be able to airdrop any answers for a test. Nor find an essay and answers to their problems. Not only do students have phones in class, they seem to take them everywhere.

STUDENT B SAMPLE FROM 9/28/18

the monstrous tree is real. Although the tree only appears in dreams i believe its to not scare Connor away. The tree is trying to save Connor from his mother not his grandmother but Connor doesn't realize it yet. Connor’s step grandmother is trying to help him even though he doesn’t realize that

STUDENT B SAMPLE FROM FRIDAY, 10/11/18

Although cell phones were a big improvement in technology, it also revolutionized the way we socialize globally. Later on that became a problem. In today's society most people seem to be on there phone more than any other thing they choose to do that day. According to the article " Help I Cant Put Down My Phone" Kids use there phone for over two hundred minutes a day. A kid from the article said "Honestly I expected 500 minutes." The reason most kids are always on there phone is because of social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram. These apps allow teens to keep up with there friends and post pictures. 94% of teenagers have social media apps on their phone. Some teenagers use these apps so they feel less lonely.


STUDENT C SAMPLE FROM 9/28/18

Although it is obvious thart this “monster” is not real. This monster is only seen by conor. The monster walks to conors window at night while he is sleeping. As it is stated in the “breakfast” chapter “when he’d opened his eyes this morning. The first thing he’d looked at was his window. It had still been there of course no damage at all, no gaping hole into the yard.” This means the yew tree getting out the ground to walk to his window at night is just an imagination because there is no damage done to the house or in the yard.

STUDENT C SAMPLE 10/11/18

In today's society, teens use their cellular device throughout the day. Teens use their phone for school work which distracts them from learning. In the article "Help I Can’t Put My Phone Down" research says “My phone causes distractions that makes me procrastinate” (Kaminski 3) so that means smart phones today distracts teens from getting their work done. Students should turn their phone in at the beginning of class because it can eliminate distractions in school. By turning in their devices, students grades will increase tremendously. With teens today in high school they tend to procrastinate, so when they get to adulthood they try to do the same thing.



THIS, IS ME. IN CLASS, DEEP DOWN INSIDE. EVEN THOUGH I KEEP COMPLAINING THAT THEY NEED TO FIX MORE, TRY HARDER, USE A MORE ENHANCED WORD, NOPE-- THAT WORD IS RAGGEDY. DO BETTER, BETTER, BETTER.


It's the little baby victories, like a paragraph looking better in 13 days (8 school days if you do not count the nothingness they betook in on weekend and the blustery day for the wind speeds we got off).

Are these second samples from each student perfectly crafted pieces of work sent from the composition Gods themselves. No. But damnit, I am proud that they are getting somewhere. 

And then I am like, oh yeah, that's why I love teaching. Because these my sweet little headaches are actually so very capable of learning, and growing, and expressing actual ideas that have just been buried down in their dusty little heads. Somewhere under though, it's all there. 


FAITH, TRUST, AND PIXIE DUST, Y'ALL.

Or actually...

SIT DOWN, PLEASE. I AM NOT IN THE MOOD FOR NONE OF THE GAMES TODAY. I DON'T HAVE THE TIME AND NOR DO YOU. NOPE, I CANNOT HELP YOU, YOU'VE BEEN ON THE PHONE, HELP YOURSELF. THAT SOUNDS RAGGEDY, TRY HARDER. NOPE. JUST NO. I CAN ONLY HELP ONE OF Y'ALL AT A TIME. NOPE. STILL NOPE. MA'AM, DO NOT COME TO ME ASKING FOR MORE TIME TOMORROW. UMMM, THAT'S HALF RIGHT. NOW KEEP GOING.



BUT, WHE I CAN FINALLY SAY, "YES, YOU GOT IT." ​OH, THE LITTLE DUMB SMILE THEY TRUY SO HARD TO HIDE MAKES MY 11 DAYS OF WALKING CICLES AND BEING DRUG FROM DESK TO DESK, SO, SO WORTH IT.


Love, hugs, and lots of kisses, Cheers, Ty Snowden

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