Friday, September 25, 2015

Week 5: Let the wild rumpus start! (Week of 9/25/2015)

Life in G-6 is heating up and we're buckling down into the nitty-gritty of the English and AVID curriculum.

My AVID class is getting ready for their first tutorial, slated for next Tuesday. This week, we learned about the Tutorial process and how to fill out a Tutorial Request Form (TRF) in preparation for the big day. We've talked our way through the notes we've taken, deepening our understanding of Tutorials and writing Tutorial Request Forms. Students also discussed the difference between good questions and not-so-good questions. This process is important so we're as successful as we can be for our first tutorial. Of course, it's our first go-round and we'll learn what else needs to be done for success, but taking that first step is important and we're all excited to be doing it.

In my English classes, we took our knowledge of nonfiction and continued to apply it to the Precis Paragraph (a means of summarizing non-fiction writing in a scholarly, concise way). We wrote our first paragraph together as a class and the students' final written piece sounded great! It's a long process at the beginning, but it'll help us to become better writers.

After we finished our Precis Paragraphs, we switched gears into studying plot and theme in preparation for our 1st Quarter Independent Book Project. We'll be returning to our study of nonfiction next week and looking at it through the lens of bullying (and how to solve the problem) but I figured we'd take a brain break to let the information solidify in our brains. When I teach plot in my classroom, we go over the plot diagram (what I'm calling "Plot Mountain") with definitions and then use a story to give concrete examples. I discovered a teacher online who teaches plot using the ever-so-popular Pixar Shorts and have followed suit. This week, we watched the hilarious "Presto" and identified the characters (and their changes), the various plot elements, and the turning point of the story where everything started to change. I like teaching plot with the Pixar shorts because they're short, entertaining, and easy to follow making for a fun and engaging lesson. Once we finished plot, we were free to move on to theme (lovingly referred to as "Theme Island").

Theme is a tough subject to master, but through an inventive way of teaching theme (that my mentor in Southern California came up with). Along with the Pixar shorts, I teach theme through picture books, like "The Three Little Pigs" and "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs". This week, we read Maurice Sendak's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are" and wrote our theme statements based on the book. Students worked with partners to turn the subjects of the book (what the story is about) into theme statements (what the book/author has to say about the subject). It's a tough concept to grasp, but my students are such deep thinkers this year that they rocked their first theme statements. I know we're going to go far this year!

Don't forget to be awesome!!!
Kevin Laffin

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Week 4: Living in a Nonfiction Paradise (Week of 9/18/2015)

This week, Mother Nature took pity on us and cooled Laguna down. The windows were open again, fresh breezes made learning enjoyable, and the sun kept us downright happy.

In English, we're nearing the end of learning about nonfiction and gearing up to use our knowledge in what I like to call our "life test". Basically, a "life test" is when students are asked to take the knowledge they learned in class and apply it to a project or activity. Pretty soon, we'll be embarking on our bullying unit culminating in a research project. Students will be reading lots of nonfiction dealing with the various types of bullying (physical, mental, emotional, and the new one, cyber), watching a documentary dealing with bullying, and completing a project (with a partner or alone) on one of the four types of bullying by creating a newspaper article, brochure, or Google Slides show. All students will then give a TED Talk-style presentation to their classmates. Last year's projects absolutely floored me. I was so impressed with the professionalism and academia my students enveloped as they presented on the topic of their choosing.

Students in my first period class race the clock and each other
to see who's "top Lancer" on the leaderboard.
What a fun way to review for a quiz!

This week, we've been revisiting the nonfiction quiz I gave two weeks ago. The results weren't quite where I'd like them to be, so we broke apart one quiz and used it as bellwork (leading to class discussion) and the other part, the labeling, was tweaked and made more user friendly to ensure student success. They've really been impressing me with their knowledge of what features make up nonfiction and how they know that a heading, for example, is indeed a heading. Thursday, we played Kahoot!, an interactive, game show style review game that has students not only racing the clock, but competing against each other to claim a spot on the "top 5" leaderboard. They really love reviewing when we play Kahoot! Of course, Murphy's Law reared its ugly head fifth period when the Chromebooks/WiFi that had been working perfectly fine all day decided to quit, leaving us with only five students able to log in and play. Mrs. Mooney joined us fifth period to see the game in action which turned into her helping us troubleshoot. What was supposed to be an individual game turned into five groups of students all competing against each other. It turns out that the tech failure led to a new way to play Kahoot! that I'll surely use in the future.
Here are some quotes I heard today:
"This game was so much fun!!!"
"I wish I would have studied, I would have beat you!"
"Why can't we play this in our other classes?" (spoiler alert: Mr. Townsend plays this and I actually stole the idea from him)
"Reviewing for our quiz is really fun!"
"Can we play this tomorrow?"

I look forward to seeing my students shine bright on their nonfiction quiz retakes tomorrow!!!

My AVID kids had another amazing week. This week was all about perfecting our Cornell Notes and learning about the Tutorial process, which starts next week. As a class, we finished our "Cookie article" Cornell notes and completed a Cornell Notes checklist, seeing how our notes stacked up against the rubric. We then moved into learning about Tutorials and taking more Cornell Notes, this time armed with the knowledge of successful note taking. Our class conversations continue to be so mature and scholarly! On Thursday, students took the notes they'd written so far and were challenged to share them with five other people in the class. Everyone had to keep talking and sharing until they'd reached their five and could then sit down. It was fun getting up and moving around while sharing our knowledge and understanding with each other. I'm excited to finish teaching about the Tutorial process so I can see my AVID Rockstars have an amazing first Tutorial on Tuesday!

Don't forget to be awesome!!!
Kevin Laffin

Friday, September 11, 2015

Week 3: Things are Heating up in the Classroom (Week of 9/11/2015)

Both figuratively and literally speaking, things have heated up in G-6. The weather turned the normally comfortable classroom into a sauna-like atmosphere. Thankfully the heat wave appears to be over... for now.

My English classes continued work with nonfiction. On Tuesday, we completed our nonfiction quizzes from last week using our amazing three-day weekend to study and then finished our Elements of Nonfiction notes (the structure of nonfiction this time). Tuesday, we put our knowledge to work and applied it to the "real world". Using an article about the Johns Hopkins ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, we read, annotated, summarized, and chunked the nonfiction piece. We used the "five steps to success" to get there: read once to understand (no note taking or highlighting), read a second time to discover important words, phrases, and statistics, read a third time with a partner, this time looking at the main idea of each paragraph.
After three readings, we jumped into "chunking" our article by main ideas. Students were able to see the structure of the piece once they identified main ideas. By chunking the piece, students have an easier time understanding the article because each chunk is summarized and responded to. Summarizing the article chunks gives students a deeper understanding of the whole piece, synthesizing the information and putting it in their own words. Responding to the article allows students to ask questions, make comments, or connect the article to their own lives to elicit discussion. On the whole, reading, chunking, summarizing, and responding to the article took two days and my students rocked it! The heat didn't make it easy, but they read and reread, and then read again with great energy and participated in "brain breaks" to give us, well, a brain break.

AVID's challenge this week was the handshaking and introduction challenge. Students were first taught about proper handshakes and introductions as well as the benefits and appropriate times for those handshakes. We did a "handshake train" to practice and helped each other to find success in introductions. At the same time, we read nonfiction articles on the history or ice cream and one woman's lifelong love of chocolate chip cookies and practiced our Cornell Note-taking strategies as well as the nonfiction strategies tackled in my English class.  As usual, the drive and energy of my AVID class is such a nice way to end my day. Even with the heat, we ended the day as a classroom community, laughing and learning. Ms. Ahearn invited us into her class on Thursday for an early "Fun Friday" activity dealing with speaking and listening.

Friday found me at the District Office with the entire middle school English team where we learned about writing and the Common Core. I've received a lot of great strategies from our presenter, Julie Adams, and my students will benefit immensely. With the guest teacher, my English classes took a look at "commonly confused words" and made posters to present to their classmates, helping everyone understand how to decide which word to use. My AVID class created posters to present as well, but their focus was the topics covered in AVID so far and the value of those topics.

Don't forget to be awesome!!!
Kevin Laffin

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Week 2: Better Late Than Never (Week of 9/4/2015)

Many apologies for the late blog post. Friday ended quickly and I moved this weekend so internet was nonexistent. But... we're back!!!

My AVID class was issued a challenge, to SLANT in each class (sit up/in front, lean forward, ask good questions, nod their head, talk to their teacher). They did an amazing job and helped each other reach their goal! We also started learning how to take Cornell Notes and are getting ready for our first binder check (organization is key). I've been really impressed with our conversations in class and am so proud of my amazing students!!!

In English, we began learning about the elements and structure of nonfiction. Through a Prezi (created by someone else and edited by me to fit the needs of my class), we learned that the parts of nonfiction can help us understand what we're reading before we even read the entire text. For example, we learned that titles and headings provide a brief, sometimes vague, synopsis or summary of the chapter. Pictures and captions can make math, history, and science come alive by providing examples. Footnotes and sidebars can help add information to the text when it wouldn't make sense inside the actual text. Admittedly, the week was a bit note heavy but we had some "brain breaks" built into our lessons to break up the monotony and give our hands a break. I really like getting my students talking about their information and going over it with classmates. The more they talk about what they learned, the more likely it is that they'll remember it for later. My English classes were troopers as we headed into our nonfiction quiz and I know that they rocked the quiz!

Don't forget to be awesome!!!
Kevin Laffin