Friday, May 26, 2017

Week 32: Roasting the Staff with Limericks (week of 5/26/2017)

This week was a very poetic week! We started with personification and moved into limericks, acrostic poetry, and finally couplets.

We started the week by sharing our personifications out to the class. I heard a variety of different qualities, feelings, and traits personified from anger and joy to sadness and betrayal to adrenaline and love. Hearing my students take these traits and turn them into "people" was really inspiring. What usually starts as "this is really hard" turns out to be amazing writing. If your son or daughter hasn't shared their personification with you yet, beg them to share it with you. You will be impressed!!!

We tried our hands at haikus for two days. I like haikus because they're short, sweet, and to the point. Plus, they don't rhyme which makes them easier to write. I also like the fact that they're focused on nature and its beauty. For me, they're a lot of fun. We then moved onto a sillier poetry project, the limerick. I reminded my students of what limericks are, showed them some samples, and then gave them their guidelines. Mr. Calandro and I had been talking in the office before school that day and came up with the idea: have the students honor or "roast" the teachers and staff on campus in their limerick. The students loved the idea and immediately started to find ways to honor and make fun of their favorite teachers. I let my classes know that they had to be nice, as I'd be compiling their work and sharing it with their teachers. The limericks were hilarious and well done!

We ended the week by taking a look at couplets. Couplets are poems where the stanzas are broken into two lines with rhymes at the end. My students are writing couplets about something they enjoy and are tasked with writing four stanzas (for a total of eight lines). While couplets are a little sing-songy, they're not annoying enough for me to avoid. I avoid other, more annoying types of poetry but couplets are easy and fun!

Lastly, my Donor's Choose project is coming to a close shortly. On Wednesday, June 7th, the project will close and we'll either be fully funded and receive our materials or the money will be returned to the donator who then gets to decide where the money goes (to another project on the website, back to the teacher as a DonorsChoose.org gift card, etc.). That's the bad news. However, there's A LOT of good news!!! Since the last time I posted we've received a lot of donations. We're officially $247 away from a fully funded project!!! Thank you all who have donated and spread the word for our amazing students. I'm floored by everyone's generosity and support. THANK YOU!!!

If you still would like to donate or know someone who does, please send them to my class page on Donor's Choose: https://www.donorschoose.org/project/stand-up-for-education/2444004/?rf=link-siteshare-2017-05-teacher-teacher_1779689&challengeid=283838

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What has been your favorite type of poetry so far? Why did you enjoy writing it?
2. How does figurative language enhance poetry? Which part of figurative language does the best job at enhancing writing? Why do you think that?
3. What is one thing you've done this year that you're especially proud of? What makes you proud of it?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Week 31: SBAC Testing and Looking for Next Year's WEB Leaders (week of 5/19/2017)

This week there's not a ton to report on. You son or daughter took the SBAC test in both their English and math classes. If they didn't get to finish, no worries. Make-ups will take place during the school day next week. I got two assignments graded during testing so check PowerSchool for some updates.

The focus of this week's blog is the WEB ("Where Everybody Belongs") program, an orientation and transition program I co-coordinate with Miss Ahearn, our Leadership teacher. WEB Leaders help run the orientation program before school starts by leading the incoming class through small group team building and get-to-know-you activities. Throughout the year, they reconnect with their group on a personal basis at school and at after-school WEB activities. These activities are all designed to make the middle school years less scary and more fun while building meaningful relationships with upperclassmen and peers. Your son or daughter is invited and encouraged to apply if they see themselves as any type of leader. Applications went out yesterday based on teacher recommendations.

Whether your son or daughter received the invitation or not, they are welcome to apply. We first take teacher recommendations for student leaders because the staff knows what the program entails and what type of leader we're looking for. What we're truly looking for is a nice cross-section of Laguna. We want leaders from every background, every club, every elective, and every level of leadership ability so that the connection between our 8th-grade leaders and incoming 7th-grade class is strong. Please encourage your son or daughter to apply and become a part of Laguna's legacy for years to come. Applications are available in Student Services, room E8 (Miss Ahearn's room), and room G6 (my room). They are due to Student Services by Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

 Please review the following dates, as some are mandatory for students who wish to be WEB Leaders:

• *Spring Play Day: Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm;
• *WEB Leader training: Thursday, August 10, 2017, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm
 and Friday, August 11, 2017, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm;
• *7th Grade Orientation: Monday, August 14th, 2017, 7:00 am – 12:30 pm
7th Grade Registration Day (Optional): Tuesday, August 15, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
First day of school: Monday, August 21st; wear your WEB leader shirt
 and help seventh graders with directions and questions;
First WEB Leader meeting: Wednesday, August 30, at lunch in H-1;
Attend the “Back to School Dance”: Friday, September 15th; call your team
 and invite them to attend the dance with you!
Be available for Follow Up activities, such as WEB Homebase Takeovers, throughout the year.
*These events are MANDATORY to be a WEB leader!







If your son or daughter is interested in becoming a WEB Leader, please encourage them to apply. If they're interested but can't make the mandatory dates, they can still participate in the WEB program as an A-team member. A-team members help run the WEB program but aren't assigned to a group of 7th-graders. Our A-team is welcome at any and all WEB activities and helps with set-up and take-down of the activity, running the activity, and helping with the small WEB groups as needed. Being part of the WEB program is a great way to give back to your school in a meaningful way!

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What qualities do you have that make you a leader?
2. How has the WEB program helped you this year?
3. What is your favorite thing about Laguna Middle School?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams


Friday, May 12, 2017

Week 30: Enhancing Writing with Figurative Language (week of 5/12/2017)

First of all, THANK YOU to all of you who came to visit at open house. It was nice to finally put some faces with the names and great to see you again.

This week, we dove deeper into figurative language and really studied its effect on writing. After completing our notes, we practice our new skills by analyzing song lyrics and a poem. It was clear to me in these two assignments that my students were ready to move onto bigger and better things (because they did so well), so we ended our week really focussing in on personification. Personification is giving any non-human thing human-like qualities. Disney does an amazing job at personifying animals ("Finding Nemo", "The Lion King", Mickey, Minnie, etc.), objects (Lumiere, Cogsworth, Plumette, and basically all the characters inside the castle in "Beauty and the Beast", feelings or ideas (Fear, Anger, Disgust, Joy, and Sadness from the absolutely brilliant "Inside Out"), and even plants and weather in "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000" (as well as the animated shorts created throughout the year).

After taking a look at personified qualities and character traits in
J. Ruth Gendler's "The Book of Qualities", I had students practice writing personifying "betrayal" with me. We looked at what betrayal actually is and then assigned actions, looks, smells, tastes, colors, feelings, and sounds to it. After brainstorming, we took a look at a sample from one of my former students. When we'd gotten a really good look at the assignment, I set my students free to brainstorm. They chose ANY character trait, quality, or feeling they wanted and began the process. I've seen a lot of amazing, and deep, ideas so far. I'm really excited to see the final product and have it shared with my classes.

We'll be concluding our year with figurative language and creative writing in a poetry unit. I've incorporated some of my favorite forms of poetry and hope that my students really enjoy where we take our writing.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What is personification? How will I be able to tell if something has been personified? What are some examples of personification from popular books or movies?
2. Which character trait or quality did you personify? How did you make it come to life in your writing?
3. What is one thing you've done this year that you're especially proud of? What makes you proud of it?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Weeks 25-29: Real World Argumentative Writing and the Final Unit

...and we're back! It's been a while since I've checked in. Between friends from LA coming up for Spring Break, two field trips (the AVID college trip and the SLOHS Choir trip), and Spring having most definitely sprung, it's been a little nuts over here. The good news is that we've been working hard on our argumentative writing since the last blog so there's not a lot to update on.

The week of March 31 we completed the District Writing Assessment on argumentative writing. Students had three days to read the prompt and provided sources, outline and form an argument, and physically write that argument. I've completed the grading of the assessment and I must say that must students are really getting it. Not only are they writing full, complete arguments but they're also upping their game and writing in an academic, scholarly, and professional way. I'm really proud of my students and their amazing writing!

Moving on, we started and finished our final argumentative writing unit, Tap versus Bottled Water. Last year, I was trained in the Cal State University's program, "Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum" (or ERWC). One of their argumentative units pits tap water versus bottled water. We've  taken a look at multiple sources written in different nonfiction styles. We've also taken a look at the vocabulary of each piece and discussed our evolving opinions on which type of water is better. What, to me, seems like a boring topic turns out to be engaging and exciting every year. The students are able to craft excellent arguments as we work towards argumentative writing in the real world: an argumentative letter. Their final products look amazing and I'm so proud of the hard work and dedication my students have shown!

Looking forward, I've made a few adjustments to our schedule. The big changes are that I'm no longer assigning an Independent Book Project for the 4th quarter and we'll also not be reading "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. I took a look at our calendar and with essentially four teachable weeks left in the school year (not including state testing and the last week of school; we're still about six weeks from the end of the year), time was not on my side. My students are still required to read for 20 minutes each night, Monday-Thursday, but can now choose the novel that they want to read. In lieu of "The Giver", we'll be diving back into creative writing with our poetry unit. It's always a fun unit to end the year on and I know my students will really enjoy it.

Lastly, the WEB program. It's the time of year where we say goodbye to this year's WEB leaders and gear up for next year's. All 7th graders are encouraged to apply to be a WEB leader. As the coordinator and teacher to ~120 of them, I see a lot of AMAZING leaders on our campus (and especially in my classes). If your son or daughter is interested in a leadership opportunity on campus that won't take over their elective class, WEB is the program for them. Please be advised that all WEB leaders will be required to participate in a 2-day training in August just before school starts as well as the orientation day. Since your son or daughter is part of Laguna's first 7th grade class to go through the WEB program, I know they'll be excellent leaders next year. We're looking for leaders from all different backgrounds and leadership experiences to join the crew. If you think your son or daughter would benefit from this experience, please encourage them to apply in the next coming weeks when it's announced.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What elective are you looking forward to next year?
2. How is argumentative writing different in a letter than it is in an essay?
3. Do you see yourself as a leader? Why or why not? What leadership qualities do you already have?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams

Monday, March 27, 2017

Week 24: District Writing Assessment- Argumentative Writing (week of 3/24/2017)

This past week, we took a closer look at argumentative writing in preparation for our final District Writing Assessment. What we started with when we did the bullying unit was looked at more in depth with this latest study of argumentative writing. The assessment will take place Monday, March 27 through Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

I spent a couple of hours on campus Saturday providing feedback on my students' writing. Those who turned their practice paragraphs in on Google Classroom received feedback. Please take a moment this weekend to review the paragraph with your son or daughter regardless of if they received feedback from me or not. Your feedback and support will help them to prepare for the upcoming assessment.

I've noticed with this group of seventh graders that their skills in argumentative writing are pretty high. Not only are they able to take a topic and craft an argument, they're able to support it appropriately with evidence from outside sources (whether those sources are provided or not). Not only that, but they are also doing a great job identifying possible counter-arguments. With the Common Core State Standards, this is the first year students are expected to include counter-arguments in their writing. It's a tough concept because it's not necessarily black and white (for example, rarely will students find evidence that directly counters their argument). In each of my classes, students have been able to find evidence that provides another side to their argument, whether that argument is directly stated or inferred. Once students have identified a counter-argument and supported it well, they rebut it more information supporting their argument. The vocabulary in this final piece of evidence and elaboration needs to be strong to really prove the argument. My students had a great time using strong vocabulary in an effort to knock the counter-argument down. Overall, my students are well prepared for their final writing assessment.

I'll be back later this week with an update as well as a preview of where we're going.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What are the key elements of argumentative writing?
2. Why is a counter-argument important when you're writing your argument?
3. How can you cite your sources in your argumentative writing? Is there only one way or are there multiple ways?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week 23: Three Down, One to Go! New Opportunities Await... (week of 3/17/2017)

It's official! Third quarter is officially in the book. Quarter report cards should be arriving in two weeks. For your son or daughter's current progress, please check PowerSchool. Also, please note that grades for third quarter are finalized at this time. Any assignment with a zero, whether it's missing or late, will remain a zero in the gradebook. Now is a great time to have a conversation with your son or daughter about not only finishing strong, but also about all of the opportunities they'll be presented with this quarter in preparation for their eighth grade year. More on those opportunities later in the blog.

Up first, the Independent Book Project. This quarter, students experienced the trials and tribulations of working in a group. I really stressed the idea of "teamwork makes the dream work" to my students often throughout this unit. While there were some less-than-desirable outcomes for some groups, most fared really well. In their presentations, I saw that they'd really dug deep into their book and gotten to know their characters and settings well. The weekly book club meetings strengthened each individual students' understanding of the book in general as well as in relation to the various lenses we looked through (point of view, characterization, tone and purpose, etc.). I was really impressed with the book talks as well as the travelogues that were produced as a result. The two days we spent building the slideshows in class were impressive as I heard students in their books clubs compiling their knowledge to present the best information possible. In addition, my students really held themselves and their groups accountable for sticking to "final form" in an effort to present the most academic and scholarly slideshow possible. If you haven't gotten a chance yet, ask to see your son our daughter's handiwork. I think you'll be impressed!

As a reminder, any work that is not turned in when collected for whatever reason (late, absent) will be graded/updated in the gradebook when I have a chance to get to it. Please keep this in mind as we go into our final quarter as the last day of school is the deadline for ALL work. Please continue checking my homework website, Google Classroom, and PowerSchool to ensure that your son or daughter is as successful as they can be. It is up to the student to check my homework website, Google Classroom, PowerSchool, the "extras/absent box", and call their classmates for any work they may have missed. I do not offer any extra credit work in my class for any reason. Students should do their regular work and aim for the "above standard" category on every assignment that has a rubric. "Above standard" results in extra credit. The only other extra credit I offer is Kahoot and Quizlet Live; students must be on the leaderboard to receive extra credit. This can be done by diligently completing assignments and studying the provided Quizlet vocabulary sets on my homework website.

Lastly, the fourth quarter is here and so are the new opportunities that eighth graders get. Soon, we'll be presenting the elective options to our 7th graders in an assembly. Wheel electives now become semester electives, for the most part. Leadership is available to eighth graders who want to put on activities for our student body. There is a mandatory Leadership meeting at lunch on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 in H1 for all interested students. There will also be an application and interview process in preparation for next year's Leadership class. In addition, we're rolling into our second year with the WEB program. Ms. Ahearn and I, the WEB Program Coordinators, will begin taking applications for future WEB Leaders and will hold interviews soon. WEB is not an elective class at Laguna, but an extra-curricular leadership and volunteer program. Your son or daughter's elective choice will not be affected in any way by choosing to be a WEB Leader. That being said, there are some mandatory training and activity dates for all WEB Leaders. Information will be coming home soon. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

In addition to new elective opportunities, Accelerated Math and Accelerated English will also be offered to students who qualify. I'm told information has already gone home for both, but stay tuned if I'm mistaken. There will be multiple testing opportunities for both classes.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What did you learn about working with your friends in a group project? Did you get the grades you were expecting on the project? Why or why not?
2. The next time you're given the opportunity to choose a group to work with, what will you remember?
3. What opportunities are you looking forward to for your eighth grade year? How can you ensure that you finish the year strong and get those opportunities?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Weeks 21 and 22: Incredible Presentations (Bullying), the IBP, and the End of the Quarter (weeks of 03/03 and 03/10/2017)

I'm sorry to say I skipped a week last week. What I've noticed is that it's really easy to skip weeks in the Spring semester. My apologies for leaving you out of the loop.

In an instant, we've reached the final week of the third quarter. Third quarter ends on Friday, March 17, 2017. Any and all missing work from the third quarter is due on Friday, March 17, 2017 for credit. After that date, the grade will remain a zero in the gradebook. Speaking of missing work, I'm furiously grading both on-time and late work. My intention is to have the gradebook solidified by Sunday, March 19th. I try to grade the work I collect in class in a timely manner (which works most of the time). In the case of late work, I grade late work when I can get to it. Please bear with me as I get everything squared away. I appreciate all who've checked in with me regarding late/missing work; thanks for keep me on top of things.

This week we spent Monday through Wednesday working on our Independent Book Project Travelogues in class. Monday started with a presentation, by me, of what the project presentation will look like and sound like. The remainder of Monday was spent working in small groups to create a game plan for Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the days leading up to the presentations. My students worked diligently in class to get their information on their slides, to make sure that information was in "final form", and found pictures that were labeled for reuse (incredibly important for this project). Most groups are on track for success. Thursday and Friday, we had a "reality check" in class to remind students of their job, both in class and out. The crux of group projects is teamwork, or as we say in class, "teamwork makes the dream work". Please check in with you son or daughter on their progress in this project as well as the progress as others in their group. No more days in class will be spent working on this project. Presentations begin Tuesday, March 14, 2017. For a sample of the travelogue slides, please visit my website.

Lastly, the bullying project. It seems like every blog I write emphatically gushes over how amazing my students are and the bullying project is no different! It's always rough to watch a presentation, at any level, when it's chock full of messy, over-worded slides and presenters who haven't prepared for their presentation. While that's slightly typical for middle schoolers (and embarrassingly typical at the collegiate and professional level), I'm incredibly proud to say that none of my students were ill-prepared nor did they present disastrous slides! I've never had a collective class of students take to the "4 by 6" rule so easily. The "4 by 6" rules means that students can only have 4 main bullet points per slide with six words per bullet point. This rule, as well as the other "Final"Form" guidelines for slide shows, ensures that the presenter becomes the expert while not overloading the audience with text, pictures, or wild transitions. My students did a phenomenal job not only researching their type of bullying and presenting their arguments beautifully, but they also formatted their slide shows in professional and scholarly ways. I am very, very, VERY impressed with what I saw and their presentation grades certainly reflect their hard work.

Lastly, a Donors Choose update. We're getting closer to the finish line with $665 left! Thank you all for your support!!!


Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How are you and your group doing on your travelogue presentation? How much more work is there to do before your presentation? How is that work going to get done?
2. What does it mean to have your slides be in "final form"? What is the "4 by 6" rule? Why is this formatting important to remember when building your slide show and presenting it?
3. How can you finish this quarter strong? How can you start and end fourth quarter strong? What are you looking forward to?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Class website: https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/home

Join my Remind classes to receive reminders and updates. Text the following codes to 81010:
Period 1- @laffin1
Period 2- @laffin2
Period 3- @laffin3
Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams