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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Week 20: Looking Forward, Building Our Arguments (week of 02/24/2017)

This week wasn't heavy on anything new, so I'll be talking more about what the next few weeks will look like followed by a recap of this week.
Next week is not only our final book club meeting (Friday) for our Independent Book Projects, but my students will also be presenting their bullying projects to their class. Monday will be our last in-class work day (Tuesday-Thursday of this week were in-class work days as well). Tuesday-Thursday will be presentations. Please help your son or daughter prepare for this presentation by checking over their Google Slides presentation and making sure it's in Final Form (follow this link for a sample slideshow). The following week, March 6-10, we'll be building our Travelogue presentations and working on our script. We'll also be wrapping up the bullying unit and moving deeper into argumentative writing. With the end of the Independent Book Project will come the end of the third quarter. Please check in with your son or daughter's grade on Power School to make sure missing assignments are taken care of. I'm working hard on getting assignments graded; "on time" work will get graded first in a big chunk and then the "late" assignments will get graded as I have time. Everything will be graded by the end of the quarter (Friday, March 17, 2017).

This week we wrapped up our research on bullying and began to build out Google Slides presentations. Because students tend to go crazy when they build Google Slides, Prezis, and/or PowerPoints (in regards to backgrounds, fonts, transitions, and pictures), I've provided them with a "final form" guidelines sheet for these types of presentations (look for a pink handout with CRAAP on the front and "Prezis and Google Slides Tips" on the back; a slide show is available on my website as well). Now is a great time for students to begin practicing getting their work into "final form", or work that is scholarly, academic, and professional. It may not matter to all teachers, but I like to help my students present their absolute best work at a high standard in preparation for the real, professional world. Please ask them to show you their work and constructively critique it. Presentations will begin Tuesday 2/28/2017, after a final work day in class on Monday 2/27/2017.

We also reviewed plot/story elements in class this week. You may remember the couple of weeks we spent on it in September with the various Pixar shorts. On Friday we had another book club meeting. Because of last week's meetings (and the excitement I heard in all of the club discussions), I actually picked up "And Then There Were None" and finished it in time for this week's meeting. It's always inspiring to see my students so excited for reading. They were so excited this year that it made me get a book. Well done everyone!!!

Finally, a huge THANK YOU to you for helping spread the word of my Donor's Choose project!!! We're down to just $865 before being fully funded. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this project.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What still needs to be done for your bullying project? Will Monday in class be enough time to finish or will you need to spend time on it this weekend?
2. How do the elements of plot work together in your story to create an exciting or interesting story? What is your favorite part of the story so far? Why?
3. How did book club go this week? What can you do in preparation for next week's meeting?

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, February 17, 2017

Week 19: Is There a Solution to Bullying? (week of 02/17/2017)

This week was a quick one! We've also got another shortened week next week. Oh February, how I love you!

This week, my classes began their bullying unit project. This project is part argumentative writing and part research project. Every student had the choice to work alone or with a partner. Then, they chose one of the four types of bullying to research: physical bullying, verbal bullying, emotional bullying, or cyberbullying. Everyone will be answering the question Is there a solution to your chosen type of bullying? Why or why not? We'll be practicing crafting a solid argument by finding sources that support our assertions as well as finding good counter-arguments. Seventh grade is the first year students are taught counter-arguments and why they're important to a complete argument. So far, it sounds like my students have really dug deep into their arguments! We went over the guidelines on Wednesday and got to work on our research on Thursday. The students will be completing a Google Slides show to present their argument to their class. We'll continue to work on this project in class; no at-home work is necessary quite yet.

The rain on Friday made for an amazing book club! My room was warm and cozy as students chatted about the author's tone throughout the story and purpose in writing the story. I also had a chance to sit with each group and talk about how they're liking the book so far, what they expected when they picked up the book, if those expectations were met or they got a surprise, and if this type of book is typically what they pick up (or if they learned that they like a new genre of book). The rain even inspired me to pick up my copy of "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie (a perennial favorite amongst my seventh graders and their book clubs). We'll see if I can do more than pick it up this weekend :)
THANK YOU to those of you who donated to my classroom project!!! I was floored by your generosity! We're $992 away from our goal! Please don't feel obligated to donate; you do enough for your son/daughter already! However, if you know of anyone who likes to support education, please feel free to share my Donor's Choose page.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. Which type of bullying did you choose to research for your project? What made you choose this type? Is there a solution? What can be done?
2. How does an author's tone show in a story? What about their purpose? Do both work together to create a good story or are they separate elements? How do you know?
3. How did book club go this week? What can you do in preparation for next week's meeting?

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, February 14, 2017

Week 18: Bullying Jigsaw, Another Book Club, and a Project Plug (week of 02/10/2017)

(we interrupt this program for a shameless plug word from our sponsors) Mr. Laffin's class has a new project up on Donor's Choose! If you don't know, Donor's Choose is a website where teachers can post a "project" for their classroom where people can see it and donate directly to the classroom. I used it my first year because I was badly in need of a classroom library (what kind of English Teacher has NO books in their room?). This year, we're back with a new project, "Stand Up for Education". My goal is to get enough donations to purchase four stand-up desks (that will fit two students apiece) and eight stools. The other school I taught at had classrooms with stand-up desks and the students loved them! Sure, they complained for the first week, but as they got used to them they saw the benefits. Students were more awake and engaged in the content taught in class because they weren't falling asleep (like they did when they were sitting). The students were, in turn, more productive and successful in school because fatigue wasn't taking over their brains. The option of having a stool ensures that every student has the option to sit, should they get tired. I'm one of many teachers and staff members on campus who has a standing desk. I'm more productive and awake as I teach and interact with my students. CNN even wrote an article about the benefits of standing desks! If you know of any generous people looking to donate to public education (tax deductible, too!), please send them to my donation page. Feel free to share the link far and wide. Thank you in advance! (and now back to our regularly scheduled programming).

It was another fantastic week in the classroom! I am incredibly impressed by my students and their hard work this week. They really kicked it into high gear and my classes were more like high school or college campuses than what you'd imagine in a middle school. On Monday and Tuesday, we finished an article we'd been reading together to introduce ourselves to the topic of bullying. We dug deep into the article, noting the text features and discussing how they help us understand the article before we've even read it. We read it once for understanding, a second time to make meaning of the article (find vocab), and a third time to really solidify our knowledge. We ended by identifying the main idea and then supported our assertion with four quotes form the text that proved that we were right.

On Wednesday and Thursday, students were assigned one of four articles to read and teach to a small group. They repeated the reading and rereading process themselves (with my guidance) and ended up picking a main idea and support. They then got in a group with three other people who'd read different articles and shared what they found. Each student was responsible for teaching the main idea, four pieces of support that prove the main idea, and the vocabulary they found. I heard a lot of meaningful conversations in each group as they dug deep to understand each other's articles. This process saved the students time in the long run because they'll be using the articles to guide their research next week for our project.
On Friday we had another book club and this week was much more successful in terms of everyone getting out of my class and onto their next on time. Our focus this week was characterization, a topic we looked at in "The Outsiders" and earlier this year. My students had some amazing conversations and are clearly enjoying their books. It's exciting for me to see my students so into their books and talking about them as adults would in a book club. Some of my most reluctant readers have finished their books and are ready to discuss! It's really inspiring to see. Fridays are a lot of fun because I get to jump into groups and chat (it's especially fun if I've actually read the book).

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. Do you think there is a solution to bullying? Why or why not?
2. How did book club go this week? What can you do in preparation for next week's meeting?
3. Who is the main character in your story? What character traits would you use to describe them? If they were a real student at Laguna, would they be someone you would hang out with? Why or why not?

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, February 3, 2017

Week 17: The Bullying Unit and Our First Book Club Meeting (week of 02/03/2017)

This week we had two new experiences in class: we started the bullying unit (nonfiction and argumentative writing) and we also had our first book club meeting. This week's blog is going to focus on both more in-depth.
First up, the Independent Book Project saw its first book club meeting. Here's what a typical week will look like for the next four weeks (including this week):
Monday: Mini lesson on the week's topic. Notes and prep-paragraph prompt handed out; also available on Google Classroom. Some weeks have a short in-class activity while others do not. Students should read the fifth of the book their group decided on.
Tuesday-Thursday:  Students should continue read the fifth of the book the group decided on. Students should also be working on their prep-paragraph, due Friday morning by 8:15am.
Friday: Book Club meeting in class on the week's topic. Students will be completing a group note sheet and an in-class reflection. The reflection is the student's ticket out the door.

There were some tears and some frustrations today when some students found out just how serious I was when I said, "You're not leaving until you're done and you won't get a late pass." Students must have a good conversation with their groupmates in order to receive the note sheet. The note sheet must be 100% completed by everyone in the group in order to receive the reflection. Students complete the reflections individually and turn them in to me in order to be released for their next class. Because ample time is given to complete everything, I do not issue late passes. This means that students who don't use their time wisely, find themselves off task, or choose not to do their work may end up late to their next class. The first meeting is usually the week where students learn the ins and outs of the book club meetings, taking the frustrations of being late and applying them to appropriate book club behavior for next time.

On a positive note, the book clubs are always a great time in class because students really help each other to gain deeper insight into their stories. The conversations, prep-paragraphs, and note sheets will help the groups as they build their travelogue presentation in the upcoming weeks.
Lastly, we're moving on to a nonfiction and argumentative writing unit, looking through the lens of bullying. This unit has always been powerful and it's one of my favorites to teach. We begin with an anticipation guide where students take important terms from the unit and sort them into groups. Then, students make a prediction based on the groups they created. In an effort to gage my audience, I ask for their own experiences with bullying (both as a victim and as a bully). We don't go into great detail, but I need to make myself aware of any triggers that may come up in the unit so I can avoid them. On Wednesday, we watched a powerful video of slam-poet Shane Koyczan sharing his bullying experience ("To This Day"). The students then put their thoughts on paper in a stream-of-conscious, filling a "describing wheel" with their thoughts, feelings, questions, pictures, phrases, words, etc. about the video and on the topic of bullying. We ended the week by reading an article about bullying that introduces the true definition of bullying, its types, who bullies and why, and also what can be done about bullying. We'll be creating arguments around the question, "Is there a solution to bullying? Why or why not?". More on that next week.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What is the true definition of bullying? Which of the types of bullying do you think is the worst? Why?
2. How did book club go this week? What can you do in preparation for next week's meeting?
3. What point of view is your story told in? How do you know that? If someone else was telling the story would that change the story? How?

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