Friday, November 20, 2015

Week 13: The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius (Week of 11/20/2015)


That's right, we time-traveled back to the 1960s this week as we began "The Outsiders", easily my favorite book ever! I'm so lucky that I get to teach it every year.

Instead of me droning on in an effort to introduce my students to the decade and the author, I gave them a mini research project on Monday. Each of their table groups got one facet of the 1960s, researched it Monday and part of Tuesday (turning their research into a Google Slides show as they worked), and then they presented the information back to their classmates who took notes. If you'd like to see their work, head over to my website and look for the Pop Culture Phenomenon (1960s) (click hyperlink to go directly there). There, you'll be able to see each period's work combined into one mega-slideshow. The kids were really into learning about this important decade in American history. Special shout out to Connor in period one who brought in a Diet Pepsi bottle from the 1960s! How interesting!!!

Not only did this research introduce us to the setting of the story, but it started to help us answer our essential question: how are people affected by their environments/settings? We'll be referring to this question a lot as we read the novel and use it to guide our study of characterization. This week, we started working on a character grid where students wrote down physical and character traits for each of the characters we meet. We'll be referring to this grid a lot over the next couple of weeks as we write character development paragraphs, ultimately showing us if the characters are static (don't emotionally change) or dynamic (go through an important emotional change).

We'll also be looking at the vocabulary of "The Outsiders". I've broken the book into six pieces (two-chapter chunks) and students will receive a list of ten words for those two chapters on Monday or Tuesday of that week. Day 1, I read the words to my classes and they repeat them back to me, I give them the part of speech (they write this down), and they listen to the definition and a sample "show-me-you-know" sentence. They then go through their list and rate their knowledge of the word before they've really worked with it. They also define the words. Day 2 is when students write their own "show-me-you-know" sentences and rate their knowledge of the word after they've studied their vocab more in depth. Thursdays are quiz review days, which means we're playing the ever-popular study game, Kahoot! My students are really enjoying this game and don't even realize that they're having fun while they're studying. It's a win-win! Friday's are quiz days. I'm trying a new way of giving quizzes where students match words with definitions and then to a sample sentence on Google Forms. Once they submit their quiz, an extension called "Flubaroo" grades it for them (and me) and emails students back their score with each question noted as correct or incorrect. This instant feedback gives students either a pat on the back for good work or reminds them to spend a little more time studying and asking questions.

I can't wait to continue with this amazing book after Thanksgiving break as we dive deeper into the world of "The Outsiders".

On Monday, we braved the cold outside as we shared our 6-word memoirs. I have 19 students, so I joined in on the fun and shared my own memoir. We did this "gallery walk" in concentric circles with the inner circle facing outward and the outer circle facing inward. Each partnership got two minutes to read their memoir, tell the story behind it, and then repeat with the other partner. The entire activity took 25 glorious, but freezing, minutes and we learned a lot about each other.

Tutorials this week were really great! I'm really loving the work and thought my students are putting into their work as they help their classmates find success. My in-class aide and I get the fun job of checking in on groups and helping when needed. When we're not needed, we join the groups and listen in or ask questions of our own. I learned a lot about what the math, science, and history classes are doing this week!

Questions for the drive home or the dinner table:
-What is your favorite fact about the 1960s that you learned this week?
-How do you think people in the 1960s (and the characters in "The Outsiders") were affected by what was going on in America at that time?
-What do you like about "The Outsiders" so far?
-What work for your Independent Book Project do you plan on doing over Thanksgiving break?

I hope you have a restful Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, and good cheer. We'll be taking a break from the blog next week but will be back in December with more updates. Happy Thanksgiving!
Kevin Laffin

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Week 12: The District Writing Assessment (Week of 11/13/2015)

The Anti-Bullying Projects were turned in a second time on Monday and I have been working to get them regraded and online. My goal is to finish with these projects by Sunday evening. Students who signed up for the regrade will receive a second rubric with their final grade on it. On PowerSchool, grades that have been changed will have a note stating so.

This week, we worked hard on the end-of-unit writing assessment for the nonfiction/bullying unit. On Monday, we worked together for one final day on our practice assessment. After reading the prompt, annotating the sources and our notes, and practicing the short answers, it was time to try our hand at the practice essay. I showed my students my thought process as we wrote the introductory paragraph and a body paragraph. All students went home Monday with the printed full version of the practice essay we wrote in class, which was annotated to show them each specific element of the essay.

Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday were spent diligently working on the writing assessment, this time on their own. I am impressed with the amount of thought my students put into their work. As I walked around the classroom to monitor progress, I saw many highlighters saving important facts and pens writing notes for the answers students would be writing later. Some of my students finished their work on Thursday but the bulk of them finishing on Friday. For students who didn't finish their tests, we'll be working on them before school, after school, and at lunch over the next week.

Finally, we're moving on to our next unit, "The Outsiders". We'll be looking at plot, theme, and characterization more in-depth as we follow the exploits of Ponyboy Curtis, Johnny Cade, and the rest of the greaser gang. Students will begin the unit by briefly researching a facet of the 1960s (as it pertains to "The Outsiders") to present to the class. As we read the novel, we'll watch the characters come to life before our eyes and trace their development as life throws everything it can at them. This unit's culminating writing assessment is historical fiction, which students really enjoyed last year. We'll be taking this writing assessment in January 2016.

All students will be provided with a copy of the book for in-class use. Students are not required to have their own, purchased copy but may want one for note-taking and rereading at home (a lot of students find that this is one of their favorite books). The copy that matches the version we're using in class can be purchased here.

In AVID, we had our first tutorial since returning to the drawing board last week. As I walked around the room, I heard my students' knowledge pouring out as they helped their classmates tackle the tough questions. Through our week revisiting Tutorial Request Forms, 30-second speeches, and AVID Questions (Costa's levels of questioning), the students were really able to make great use of their time and benefit from this process.

On Thursday and Friday, we switched gears and wrote 6-word memoirs. We started by reflecting on what makes us us and wrote freely on that topic. After a brief free writing period, I presented my students with the real work of the project: whittling down an entire story or feeling into six words. My AVID students truly impressed me with their ability to take what they'd written and pare it into six words, capturing both what makes them special as well as the emotion behind it. It's not an easy feat, but these brilliant students did a great job!

Friday was spent turning those six words into an eye-catching poster. After showing students some examples from my past classes (as well as my own, pictured below), I set them free to work. Friday was one of those days where creativity and freedom worked together to accomplish amazing products. As I walked around the classroom, students were working hard and talking very little, even though they had the freedom to talk, as they turned their not-so-simple task into art. On Monday, we'll be presenting our stories to each other in a gallery walk style presentation. I can't wait to hear all of these stories and see the finished products!

Conversation questions for the dinner table or the drive home:
1. What topic did you choose for your second quarter independent book project?
2. What resources have you found for your second quarter independent book project?
3. When is the second quarter independent book project due? What can you do to ensure you're using your time wisely?
4. How did you prepare for the district writing assessment (short answers and essay)?
5. What are you looking forward to over Thanksgiving break?

As always, questions, comments, and concerns are always welcome. Please feel free to contact me with anything.

Warmest regards,
Kevin Laffin

Friday, November 6, 2015

Week 11: Bringing out the Writer in all of US! (Week of 11/6/2015)

I hope everyone is enjoying their day off and has a restful three-day weekend.

As a reminder, ALL STUDENTS in my English classes are being offered a chance to have their Bullying Project products rescored (using the information on their returned rubrics to make the necessary changes). Students need to be signed up in class in order to let me know they'd like to be rescored. Students no on the list won't get their projects rescored. I will be rescoring on Monday, November 9, 2015.

English Milestones
This week was our first real week tackling writing. Sure, we've written quickwrites, note summaries, and Precis paragraphs a lot this year, but we have yet to tackle a longer piece of writing. Starting Monday, we looked at informational/expository writing (the terms are synonymous so I teach both). As part of our nonfiction/bullying unit, students are assessed on their knowledge of bullying through brief research. This research leads them into short answer questions and a longer essay. You may hear the term "district writing assessment" this weekend, and that's exactly what we've been practicing this week. Next week, my students will get the real thing and I know they're going to do very well.

On Monday, we learned briefly about informational/expository writing through PDP Cornell Notes. My students have a great knowledge of nonfiction and were able to apply it to this style of writing. Tuesday, we took a look at a sample assessment and began combing through it. This process, while long, gave students a chance to really look at the assessment style and to dissect the prompt to ensure they wrote everything they needed. As their guide, I walked them through the assessment and modeled my thought process as I "unpacked" the prompt (looked at exactly what it was asking for), took notes on the video component, and took notes on the provided articles.

On Thursday, we got a chance to put our knowledge to the test as we answered our two short answer questions together. My favorite part of the day was when students exclaimed, "This is easy! You were right, Mr. Laffin!!!" after working themselves into a frenzy earlier this week. The assessment looks and sounds like a lot, but it's really a simple process (read, annotate, and answer) that I know my students will do very well on. It wasn't until we walked through it, with my modeling and support, that the students realized that they were freaking out over nothing (a point I tried to make daily).

The assessment next week is timed. Students will have one day to annotate their sources (read their articles and watch the video) and answer the short-answer questions. The following two days will be dedicated to planning and writing their essays. It sounds like a lot, but if students paid attention to the process (which was slowed way down this week), they should have no trouble on the actual assessment.

AVID Milestones
In AVID this week, we really focussed on writing Tutorial Request Forms. I noticed last week during our Tutorials that things were starting to go awry. It didn't hit me until last Thursday's tutorial that we really needed to go back and really take a look at the process of filling out a Tutorial Request Form. Truthfully, this realization dawned on me as I showed one student the difference between a good TRF and a not-so-good TRF. My realization led me to create three sample TRFs to show the class. Together, we filled out a TRF for math, English, and science as I modeled my thought process (as a confused student). I feel like the students are starting to understand this difficult process a little better and I'm confident we'll be able to move on to bigger and better things. We also practiced turning our TRFs into 30-second speeches, which are integral to beginning each Tutorial. The 230-second speech is a speech where the "leader" presents their original question, process, and point of confusion to their group as a means of getting everyone on the same page. When everyone is one the same page, we're able to be better helpers and the Tutorial process flourishes.

This week was also sprinkled with our favorite game, "silent ball" and "extreme silent ball" (which isn't actually silent, as the name implies). Students have to pass a ball to another student in class and each student only gets to catch/throw the ball once. This is all done in complete silence. Every round is timed and students get quicker and quicker as we go. Rounds are over when someone talks or drops the ball. For "extreme" silent ball, everything is the same except for the fact that we get to talk. Actually, we have to talk. Before throwing the ball, one must say the student's name and one fact about them (I give them two minutes to talk to as many people in class as they can before the game starts). Overall, we had a great week and learned a lot

Conversation questions for the dinner table or the drive home:
1. What is informational/expository writing?
2. During the assessment, how can you assure you're making the best use of your time?
3. How does being aware of structure in your writing help make timed essays easier?
4. What is one thing you enjoyed about this week at Laguna?

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to send them my way.

Warmest regards,
Kevin Laffin