Sunday, December 13, 2015

Week 16: Character Counts and the Spaghetti Marshmallow Building Challenge (Week of 12/11/2015)

This week, we began by finishing what we started. Last week, we wrote a character traits paragraph on one of the characters in "The Outsiders" and created a group character poster that went with it. My students continued working for half of the period on Monday and then presented their paragraphs to the class in a quick and easy presentation. I have students present their writing to the class so everyone not only gets to hear a variety of writing styles and opinions but they also get to speak their paragraph out loud, which helps them figure out if it's in tip top shape. Everyone's paragraph sounded great. What I like most about "The Outsiders" is that every year I learn something new about the book or the characters by how my students view them. This year was no different!

We focussed a bit more into character traits this week and learned about direct versus indirect characterization. Direct characterization is the easy one; the narrator or character tells you exactly what they're like. Indirect characterization is a bit more tricky because it's not directly stated; we, the readers, have to take the information we're given and infer the character trait (what we called our assertion in our paragraphs). Using the STEAL model, students were able to more specifically state their assertions and back them up with fact. The STEAL model is where we look at what the character Says, what they Think, how they Effect others, how they Act, and what they Look like (clothing, facial expressions, body language, etc.)
Lastly, we revisited the "Speed Dating" style of reviewing with chapters one and two of "The Outsiders" and our neighbors. Students faced each other in two lines and answered both comprehension and higher-order-thinking questions based on what we've read in class so far. Students enjoy this fast paced game because they get to talk to many of their classmates while reviewing the story, sharing their answers and thoughts. I like it because it gets everyone talking and moving so it's a rather fun day in class.


Tutorials have been going really great lately in AVID! It's become mostly second-nature and students dive right into their work, helping each other to understand the concepts they're learning in class. In an effort to better support my students reading skills, in turn helping them understand what they're learning in all of their classes more fully, I've begun a unit on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". The poem is rich in high vocabulary and descriptive words,  figurative language and mystery. What begins as an intense, tough-to-understand poem will become more clear over the coming weeks as we tackle the poem through multiple reads focussed on defining vocabulary, summarizing and rewriting stanzas, identifying rhyme scheme and figurative language (symbolism, alliteration), and learning about how Edgar Allan Poe's life affected his writing so deeply. I haven't been able to teach Poe in my English classes for the past couple of years so I thought pairing it with the WICOR (writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading) model in AVID was a natural fit. Plus, Poe's creepy and mysterious writing grabs the students' attention and they love reading him!

This week's fun Friday challenge was "The Spaghetti Marshmallow Building Challenge". Students got into groups to build the tallest structure using sticks of dry spaghetti and mini marshmallows. Communication was key as one false step could break a spaghetti stick, sending the structure crashing down. I saw massive structures that quickly outgrew stability, sinking into a heap of marshmallows and spaghetti. I also saw smaller, more compact structures that focussed on stability before height, ultimately negating the necessity for multiple rebuilds. In the end, it was team Chubby Bunnies (named for the popular campfire game) that came out on top, beating the other teams with a final height of 21.5 inches! Through these activities, students are not only having fun but they're learning valuable lessons in focus, collaboration, and communication.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-How are you doing on your Independent Book Project?
-What are you learning from your Independent Book Project reading/research?
-What are the struggles the greasers are facing in "The Outsiders"? How are those struggles the same of different than those of the Socs (pronounced so-shiz)?
-If you could be a character in "The Outsiders", who would you be and why?
-How has making goals for your Independent Book Project and checking in with Mr. Laffin helped you this quarter?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

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