Friday, October 30, 2015

Week 10- Wrapping up our Nonfiction Unit on Bullying (Week of 10/30/2015 )

It was a whirlwind week full of emotion and growth.

AVID Milestones
This week in AVID, we continued building our superhero posters in class to prepare for our gallery walk on Friday. Students collaborated to create characters and stories to symbolize their struggles and how they're going to conquer them. We also continued Tutorials and reflections this week to help us grow and succeed in middle school.

English Milestones
On Monday, I handed my students a printout of their final quarter grades with a reflection sheet for them to fill out. I asked my students to reflect honestly and candidly and they owned up to their mistakes, recognized where they need help and identified how to get it, and set a goal for the next quarter. I am really impressed with the thought my students put into this reflection. Yes, quarter grades haven't gone out yet. I gave my students an advanced copy to give them a jump-start on a tough conversation with you. I hope they took my advice and approached you to talk openly and honestly about their grade.

Also this week, we began our Bullying Project presentations. I'd like to apologize for putting two presentations back to back. I definitely don't put projects and presentations that close together and it wasn't my intention to at all. I would like to note that my students handled these projects and their presentations with finesse. I know that the end of the quarter got pretty stressful, but my students persevered and pushed through. Well done!

With the good must come the bad, namely the products turned in for the Bullying Project. The major issue here is that students did not use their project guidelines, formatting half-sheet, or rubrics when creating their projects (all available on my website as well as handed out and discussed in class). Please encourage your student to read and reread the directions and rubrics carefully, to listen to the directions carefully, and to ask questions when necessary.

As such, ALL STUDENTS have been afforded the opportunity to revisit this project on their own time and get it into tip-top shape. Students have until Monday, November 9, 2015 to have their projects shared on Google Drive in their shared English folder to get it rechecked. After November 9, I will no longer recheck projects. In order to be successful, students should use the following: their project guidelines packet (pink), their formatting half-sheet (blue), and their product rubric (pink). These are also available on my website.

Students who are taking advantage of this opportunity need to inform me in class that they will be turning in their project for a redo. If I don't hear from them, I am assuming that they do not wish to redo their project.

Our moment of zen for the week

As I noted last week, we're all works in progress. Failure helps us grown and learn, and that goes for me as their teacher as well. As long as we're working to our best ability and using the tools at our disposal, we'll continue to mature as people and that's far more important than a letter grade from a small snapshot of someone's life.

Some conversation starters for the dinner table or drive home:
1. What did you learn from your first presentation that you used in your second presentation?
2. How can you use a rubric to check your work before turning it in?
3. How is the rubric similar to the project guidelines?
4. What do you, the student, have control or when it comes to school? (projects, tests, homework, classwork)
5. What is something you're proud of for the first quarter?

Warmest regards,
Kevin Laffin

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Week 9- Goodbye Quarter 1!!! (Week of 10/23/2015 )

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's all she wrote. Quarter 1 of the 2015-2016 school year is officially in the books! We did it! We survived!

English milestones
We completed our book project presentations this week and my list of books to read has grown exponentially! What natural public speakers I have in my class!!! The majority of my students spoke with poise and confidence, had great eye contact with their audience, and showed a true passion for the book they chose to present. The rubrics for both the written portion and the presentation portion of the project were sent home yesterday. Tonight's dinner table conversation topic: what went well with your book project? What didn't go so well? What do you have control over and can do your best to improve upon for next time? I am impressed with the presentations this week and am so proud of my students. I have never seen a group of students start off their year of presentations in my class so scholarly and professionally. Standing ovation to them!!!

Next week, we're moving on to presenting our Anti-Bullying Guide projects (nonfiction/research). The rubric for this assignment was also sent home yesterday. It is already online at my website on the main homework page (search "rubric" or "bullying" if you have trouble finding it). While having two projects at once is indeed stressful, my students have handled it with great finesse. They're using the time and resources provided to ensure their success in their work. This week, I hosted a "library lab takeover" from 3pm-4pm after school each day. I was available in the computer lab if students just needed a place to work or for one-on-one support. I am incredibly impressed that I had students in the lab every single day, especially Wednesday and Friday when I had 12 and 15 students, respectively. I am so proud that my students took full advantage of this tool provided to them and worked hard to present a professional, academic, and scholarly final product.

If you have a moment this weekend, please review the expectations (on the rubric) and double check to ensure that all is ready to go for Monday. My expectation for this project is that it's shared in their English folder on Google Drive. Truth be told, I've repeated the expectations for where and how to share projects multiple times throughout the course of this project. While I expect that most students will have successfully put their document in the correct place, some will have gotten confused and "shared" their doc with me, neglecting to place it in the shared folder. Projects NOT in the shared folder on the day of the student's presentation will be considered late and their presentation will be moved to the next day. Please ensure that projects aren't in their main Drive, but in their shared English folder.

Over on Mr. Townsend's blog, I read a quote that I thought summed up the end-of-semester anxiety and life lessons points beautifully (and he's used to me stealing from him haha): "Remind them [your students] that school is a learning process, not a terminal experience. We're all a work in progress. Encourage them to listen to the advice their teachers are giving them and focus on making themselves better people... the academics will happen along the way."  I can absolutely echo this point. Mr. T and I both want our students to be the absolute very best people they can be, not just amazing students.

While it's important to do well, working to one's best ability is far more important. Failure brings learning. I am a firm believer that students must fail in order to truly find success. As I tell my students, "Sure, it's nice to get everything right the first time, but you haven't learned anything more than how to do it right. Those of us who fail learn what works and what doesn't work. We learn the value in reading directions and trying new things. We learn that life takes work, and that's far more important than an A on a paper."

I care for my students a great deal and it truly pains me to put zeros in the gradebook or watch deadlines slip away with unfinished assignments  (see last week's blog), but I also know that I'm helping my students gain life skills. With me, they have a "hard" teacher who wants them to learn these lessons but also a "sensitive" teacher who'll teach it in a way that lessens the blow and helps them carry on as better people. As always, it's an honor to be their teacher.

AVID milestones
The week started as it normally would with Tutorial Request Forms and a Tutorial. Students also got a grade printout on Monday to make them aware of what work was missing and what wasn't. I am really impressed with the amount of work that came in this week from my students. While it was a lot of late work, the fact that my students had organized binders and could easily pull the missing assignments out to turn in was very impressive. What well-organized students I have!

We began a project this week on Thursday in lieu of our second Tutorial. On Thursday, students were asked to briefly reflect on what they did really well this quarter and what they didn't do so well this quarter. Then, I asked students to think about what helped them or got in the way of success. Lastly, I asked them to create a superhero that would help them be their best and ward off their villain. Once students completed their brief pre-writing, I let them get into groups of three or four to repeat the process, this time presenting their writing to the group and voting on one they wished to "bring to life" in poster form.

Students then got to work creating their hero and villain. With samples from my eighth-grade class two years ago to help spark creativity, students let their imaginations run wild as they created heroes to help them do their best work and villains that would stop them from being successful. Each group is responsible for creating a poster depicting the two as well as a brief story explaining both. So far, we have heroes that help with math and English, concentration, procrastination, and studying. We have villains that shove distractions, like phones and game consoles, into our students hands, minds that wander, and the laziness monster. This project has been really fun to watch as they take the directions and run with them! There's A LOT of freedom to create on this project, and that was done purposefully. With this freedom, I've seen some amazing projects in the past and am seeing some incredible work in AVID so far. I look forward to continuing this project next week.

Thank you for a great start to the year. I appreciate working on this team for your child together.

Don't forget to be awesome!
Kevin Laffin

Friday, October 16, 2015

Week 8: Life and Its Lessons (Week of 10/16/2015)

SPOILER ALERT!!! This blog is a long one. :)

It's been a whirlwind of a week! I'm certainly exhausted as I sit here typing this, but proud of my students and their hard work this week in class. Our first quarter ends in one week and it's a fight to the finish.

Today, students were dealt the first of many tough lessons they'll learn this year and throughout their academic life. Today, the written portion of their Independent Book Projects were due and students were visibly anxious and flustered; some had finished their projects and some had not. Mrs. Schwoerer reports that her library was packed to the gills before school and during break with students in a panic, fighting over computers to print their projects. It happens every time, every year, but we can dream of a world where the last minute isn't used for stress printing, right? Unfortunately, some students had projects that were (or will be) late and others were steamrolled by the deadline, projects unfinished or not started yet.

I'd like to share with you some knowledge I shared with my students today:

Now is a great time to talk about projects and Mr. Laffin's class. In my class, I want my students to be successful. In order to help my students find success, I provide them with an abundance of time to finish big projects. Those done in-class, like their Anti-Bullying Policy research projects, have adequate, monitored time and are completed mostly in class. Those done outside of class, like their Independent Book Projects, are assigned at the beginning of the quarter and due one week before the end of the quarter. Regardless of the time given, my students need me. My goal is to hit the state standards while at the same time teaching them life skills, like time management, goal setting, and working cooperatively with others. I like to watch my students work, guiding them, encouraging them, supporting them, and redirecting them.

With projects, I stress as much about the things I can't control as the things I can. In the picture above, I CAN control how much time I gave my students to complete the project, when their assignments and rubrics were handed out, and how much reading I assign for homework. What I CAN'T control is student reading. There's realistically no way to control how much a student reads and how quickly, or that they're reading at all. Reading logs, in my opinion, are an abysmal failure. Constantly checking in on a student's reading and requiring assignments takes the fun out of something that should be enjoyable. It's easily the toughest aspect of my job. I haven't discovered the happy medium between pleasure reading and making sure my students are reading at grade level yet.

Sadly, as happens every time I assign a project, some students still scramble to finish theirs at the last minute, citing lack of time, confusion on the directions, or homework-eating family pets. It's hard not to take these things personally, but I do. It's the absolute worst part of my job and it's my personal quirk to deal with, not the students' fault. Still, their failure is my failure. No matter how much time I give them in class or over the course of the quarter, no matter how much explanation I give, no matter how many times I ask them to tell their neighbors the directions and then have them repeat those directions to me, we still get some projects that are left incomplete or not done at all. Oh, the adolescent brain.

As a teacher, I'm constantly assessing and tweaking what I do in the classroom. Any and all constructive input is welcome. If I may, I'd like to ask you to bring up the importance of time management and following directions with your student this week, be it over dinner or in the car on the way to practice. We have our Independent Book Project presentations Monday-Thursday of next week with make-ups happening on Friday. The following Monday, we begin our Bullying Project presentations. Below is another bit of knowledge I shared with my students today:

For the week of October 19-23, students will be assigned no homework, with the exception of finishing their Bullying Projects. I will be hosting a Computer Lab Takeover in the G-2 computer lab Monday, October 19- Friday, October 23 from 3pm-4pm. If students need support on their projects, I'd love to help them in the lab. If they just need a quiet, cool place to work, I'm happy to provide that for them in the lab. Please make arrangements to take advantage of this opportunity.

I apologize for my long-windedness (that's a nice way of saying, "my inability to shut up"). The English major in me creeps out every week when I write these blogs. We're doing so much exciting stuff in class!!!

Thank you, as always, for being a part of your child's continuing education and for being part of an incredible team of support for your child.

Don't forget to be awesome!
Kevin Laffin

Friday, October 9, 2015

Week 7: Research Party! (Week of 10/9/2015)

It was back to Tutorials for the AVID class this week as we tried our hands at round 2. This week, we were able to break into three groups (as compared to the two we broke into last week). I heard a lot of great questioning during the tutorials as students took a scholarly approach to their problem solving. I think the three smaller groups helped us get into the groove, making it easier to hear the presenters and group questioning as well as affording more people the chance to present their own Point of Confusion. I'm looking forward to the future where we'll be breaking into four total groups and moving outside of the classroom to tackle these amazing tutorial experiences.

We also took a look at our GPAs, grade point averages, this week and did some goal setting. It's important to be aware of one's grades and GPA before the quarter/semester ends as a means of keeping ourselves on track. Goal setting works much the same way. With a goal in mind, it's much easier to know where we're going and keep ourselves on track. To set a goal, we looked at our GPAs and then decided which goal to set: to keep our GPA the same or to shoot for a higher GPA. From there, we reflected on how our semester has gone so far and what we can do from now until the end of the quarter to reach our goal. I really like goal setting in all of my classes and have found that it really puts us on track for success.

It's research city in my English classes this week. With short tutorials by Mrs. Schwoerer, we were able to search for scholarly and academic articles to use for our Bullying Prevention Projects. We also learned how to tailor our searches to get exactly what we want, how to correctly cite our sources and create bibliography, and use "fair use" pictures for our presentations. Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Townsend and Ms. Knuttila's classes took over the library for their AMAZING Rome presentations so we wrote a second Precis paragraph on our bullying article and turned our knowledge into a bullying wheel (a graphic organizer). Thursday and Friday were dedicated to research and note-taking for their projects. Next week, we'll be starting with "boot camps" on Monday to talk about how each project is completed as well as proper interviewing and surveying techniques.

Don't forget to be awesome!
Kevin Laffin

Friday, October 2, 2015

Week 6: Birthdays and Bullying (Week of 10/02/2015)

Mrs. Schwoerer welcomed us back into the library for a week of learning the basics of bullying. While our project doesn't start until Monday, we got to hang out in the library anyway. This week, we started with a Prezi called "Bullying 101: Understanding the Epidemic". Students took notes and discussed bullying with the following EQ's (essential questions): What are the effects of bullying? What are the four types of bullying? How are they different? How are they the same? We had many conversations in class to not only help the information stick but to really get an in-depth look at how bullying is a real issue that needs to be addressed.

We did A LOT of talking this week. Students were able to discuss bullying in their small groups and then report out in a "quick and easy" presentation of their discussion to the class. The insights my students have into bullying are astounding. They truly understand that it IS a problem and DOES have lasting effects, issues that can stick around well into adulthood.

I hope this week served to whet their appetites for research. I gave them just enough information to start having real questions, which should direct their research. Starting Monday, students will choose whether they're working alone or with a partner, what type of bullying they're presenting on, and which of the three Tiers (choices) they'll be choosing to present their findings. Each Tier is based on research, but the student commitment is stepped up on the technology side. This way, each student is able to work within their own comfort zone and shine as brightly as they can. We'll be working in class all of next week and the following week so students should be able to get the bulk of their work done or completely finish it all in the time given.

This week in AVID, we attacked our first Tutorial. Like all first tries, we got a little frustrated by the Tutorial Request Forms but absolutely rocked our first Tutorial. I explained to my students that some things in life are like a video game: sometimes we have to play a level a couple of times until we know what to do and what not to do. We can only understand Tutorials so much but talking about them. In order to truly understand how a Tutorial works, we needed to try one out to see what we knew and what we needed work on. My students did an amazing job! The remainder of the week was dedicated to debriefing the Tutorial and talking about how we're going to attack next week's Tutorial. I'm really impressed with the candor my students have had when discussing this process. They're absolutely scholarly when we talk about our shortcomings and truly want to excel. I couldn't be luckier to be their teacher!

This week has been a great week with all of my students. Today, we celebrated my birthday in class (it's tomorrow) by playing the Kahoot review game and working outside in AVID, spending the last ten minutes with Miss Ahearn's class playing Pictionary as part of our Fun Friday. I'm so lucky to have so many amazing students and families! Thank you for a great year!!!

Don't forget to be awesome!
Kevin Laffin