Friday, December 9, 2016

Week 12: Finalizing the IBP and Prepping for Presentations (week of 12/9/16)

The time has come, my friends, to prepare for the Independent Book Project presentations. Due today before class, on Google Classroom, was the students' Written Portion as well as the Works Cited/Bibliography. These assignments have been available online, with the guidelines packet, for some time now (three weeks, give or take, for the Written Portion; the others have been up since the project was assigned). In checking the assignment progress on Google Classroom, I see some students still have not submitted these assignments. Please go on to Google Classroom with your son or daughter to check and see if this assignment is completed and turned in. At this point, it's late but still worth credit.

Today in class, I went over the specifics of how to turn in the infographic link. It's a bit of a process, but it's an easy process. Unfortunately, easy processes tend to be the easiest to do incorrectly. The directions on how to complete the link submission are on Google Classroom and are attached to the submission form. Students do not have to turn in their link until right before they present (time will not be provided in class). Please note that students whose links are unsubmitted or incorrectly submitted will not be able to present in class on the day they signed up for. As such, their grade will be a zero in the gradebook until they present. Makeups in class will not be provided so an arrangement for an alternate time will need to be made. As always, students have until the end of the quarter to make up any and all work.

Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, I can talk about the fun stuff. I'm truly impressed by the infographics I've seen so far. Each and every student has taught themselves how to tweak and change the photos, fonts, graphics, and backgrounds to their liking. They're also really focusing on making their project look like a true infographic. Projects this creative sometimes creep into the "way too much going on" category. I'm happy to report that everyone's projects look pretty professional and scholarly. The fonts (colors and style) don't distract from the information. The pictures support all of the information the students researched. White space, super important in infographics, is used perfectly. I'm really proud of how hard my students have been working. If possible, have your son or daughter show you their work and possibly practice their presentation for you. I know you'll be amazed!

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What do you need to work on to make sure your presentation next week is perfect? How can you receive help and support?
2. Which characters in "The Outsiders" are going through an emotional change? How do you know? Why is it happening?

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
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Period 4- @laffin4
AVID (Period 6)- @avidlams

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week 11: Upcoming Project Due Date and Presentations (week of 12/2/16)

It's crunch time for the Independent Book Project; the written portion is due on Friday, December 9, 2016, on Google Classroom. Presentations will begin Monday, December 12, 2016. The guidelines for this project as well as the rubrics and paragraph skeletons have been available on Google Classroom as well as in class. Please review these with your son or daughter to make sure they're on the road to success. While we have been spending some time working on our projects in class, it's necessary that extra effort is put into this project outside of class; the time we put into it in class is nowhere near enough time to complete the project, as it's an independent book project. Please bear in mind that I do not assign homework regularly; in the case of projects, extra effort is necessary for student success. Please check in with your son or daughter to see if they're on-track for completing their project in time for the due date. I'm happy to answer any and all questions on Remind, via email, or in class (before, during, or after school).

Beginning on Monday of next week (12/5/2016), I'll be hosting an IBP Workshop in my classroom after school from 3pm-4pm. Students who take the bus will be issued late-bus passes. I've set aside this time for students to work on their Independent Book Projects outside of class with my support. We've worked on the projects in class a bit, but I know some students would like extra support or time to work. While I'm available every day before and after school, I like to make sure every student is aware that I'm available for their support after school the week a project is due.
Here's what students can take advantage of:
     -Chromebook use
     -free-work time: students can work at their own pace, with or without my support
     -one-on-one support: I'm available to help with projects or give them a once-over
     -presentation practice: students can work on their presentation skills
     -a quiet working environment: the students who show up after school are there to work, so the classroom tends to be on the quiet side. Students are also free to bring earbuds/earphones and listen to music while they work.
Students can come and go as they please. It is not required for anyone to show up or stay the entire time.

I've seen it time and time again, we get to this point in the project and students "don't know how to do the project" or "couldn't find the resources" necessary to complete the project or "couldn't figure out the website" to make the project. It's at this point I have a serious conversation with my students; we've been working on this project in class since the beginning of the quarter and I have been available for support this entire time. Waiting until now to express confusion is not acceptable as it is the last minute. Students often look at their progress on the project and compare it to their classmates, getting stressed because their classmates are much further on their projects or their classmates' projects "look much better". This is often the root cause for the "I didn't know how to do it" excuse. I can't stress this enough, please check in with your son or daughter to ensure that they're on the road to success. Because we've worked on this project all quarter, there's very little I can do to ease student stress at this point if students haven't begun their project or haven't put adequate time into it. I'm always happy to help my students, but adequate effort must also be put in on their part in order to be successful in middle school.

Lastly, we're getting to the midway point of "The Outsiders". Next week we'll tackle chapters 7 and 8 and then take a break from the novel to focus on Independent Book Project presentations as well as the upcoming District Writing Assesment on informational/explanatory writing. After winter break, we'll finish the novel. To end the unit, we'll be watching the director's cut of the movie and comparing and contrasting the two forms of media (text versus film). Because the movie is rated PG-13, even if it's a 1984 PG-13, I'll be handing out permission slips. Each student is expected to turn in a signed permission slip. Those who don't will not be able to view the movie and will be given an alternate assignment. I'll go into further detail about the movie later but you can go to IMDB.com to view the "parent's guide" if you wish.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What final steps do you need to complete to finish your Independent Book Project?
2. Which character from "The Outsiders" do you connect the most with? Why is that?
3. Did setting goals for your Independent Book Project help you to find success in your project? Why or why not? What other supports will you need next quarter to help you find success or continue to be successful?


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, November 18, 2016

Week 11: Character Relationships and Thanksgiving (week of 11/18/16)

This week was similar to last week. We worked on our Independent Book Projects a bit in class. We studied a new list of vocabulary words in "The Outsiders" (complete with Quizlet Live, Kahoot, and a quiz). We also studied character relationships within "The Outsiders".

I want my students to look at how each character is related to the others in the group. Are they related by blood or are they friends? Do they have a stronger connection, things in common? What pulled these characters together and what keeps them together? Who's most likely to desert the group? Why? These are all questions we pondered as we worked on our "Character Relationships" handout. As a class, we discussed their relationships and discovered that the Curtis brothers (Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Darry) are the family at the core of the larger family, the greasers. The Curtis brothers are related by blood while the rest of the gang is considered family, but aren't blood-related. We also talked about the idea of fitting in when answering the question, "who is most likely to desert or leave the group?" There were many different, great answers. I love how my classes are looking deeper into these characters to find out what makes them tick. It's so easy with these books because there's an instant connection to the characters. Everyone immediately falls in love with these characters and it's inspiring to see my students so excited to talk about and read this book.

Lastly, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving break. I'm truly thankful to work in such an amazing community with the best kids on the planet. I love what I'm doing and people like you only make it easier. Thank you for being a part of this journey and affording me the opportunity to do what I love.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What is your Independent Book Project goal for over Thanksgiving break? How will your efforts over Thanksgiving break affect your overall project?


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, November 13, 2016

Week 10: Growing Our Vocabulary and Understanding the Outsiders (week of 11/11/16)

Another short week, but we got a lot done. Monday started with more infographic building. Here at the beginning of the project, figuring out how to work Piktochart can be frustrating for some students. It's a platform that's new to most of my students and some of the tools are a bit confusing. I'm also stepping back and not teaching a thing about the platform itself, which is insanely frustrating for some students (but there's a menthod to my madness). I started the week with the addage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." I'm teaching my students to fish by allowing them the freedom to explore the platform with my support. A lot of what I do in my classroom can be frustrating because I'm not just handing the "fish" (answers) over. Instead, I'm giving my students the fishing pole and tacklebox and sitting with them on the shore. Truthfully, this little bit of frustration will lead them to a world of disovery. It'll help them think more critically and identify how to get to the answer they're seeking. I'm impressed by the work my students have already done and look forward to their final projects.

Tuesday through Thursday, we tackled two activities at once: vocabulary and the "Outsiders" characer grid. I'll talk about the grid first. Basically, I list four chracters on each side of the grid (eight total) and provide space for students to identify physical traits, character traits, and whether the character is static or dynamic. In the past, we've spent the first week of "The Outsiders" reading and rereading chapters one and two, digging for physical and character traits and noting the page numbers where we found our evidence. Students were responsible for all eight characters. Those who worked hard in class got it done, stress free. Those who didn't work as hard as they could have, or subsequently lost their grid, had a lot of work on their hands near the end of the book when the assignment was due, causing stress panicked work. Now, I'm doing things a bit differently due to an ephiphany I had at an AVID teacher training I recently went to.

Tuesday, I assigned a character based on the students' number groups (eight characters and eight groups, how serendipitous!). Students were then given time to comb through chapters one and two on their own to identify physical and character traits, this time focussing on one character. The next day, I gave students a few more minutes to get their thoughts together and finalize their evidence. I then got them into conversations in their number groups, explaining the character traits they identified for their like-character as well as the quotes that gave them that idea. What's fun about this book, and literature in general, is that students can be reading the exact same book but they see the characters differently. They see their traits differently and are able to support themselves. As long as they have their support, they're right (for the most part). The reason I still love teaching "The Outsiders" (especially after five years, reading it upwards of 30 times) is that my students change the way I see the story and its characters. The power of conversation is out in full force when we study this book. I love the connection my students make with these characters; I love how they illuminate different aspects of the characters through their individual study.

Thursday, we ended our study of the characters of "The Outsiders" by leaving our number groups behind and turning to our letter groups. I have four letter groups with eight students apiece. In their groups, students helped each other fill out their character grid with traits and page numbers. I'm really imporessed by the academic and scholarly conversations I heard on Thursday. I heard students questioning each other, "Where did you get that trait? Why do you think that?", "Can you elaborate on your trait for me?", "Couldn't you also see the character this way?". Each class had a hole somewhere in one of the groups, so I got to jump in and share a character with at least one group. I haven't asked for student feedback yet, but I really feel like this version of the character grid was much more successful than in years past.
Finally, with "The Outsiders", we began our first true delve into a vocabulary study. Each week, students will get two chapters of the book and ten words from those chapters to study. On Monday, I say the words and have students repeat them so they know how to pronounce them correctly. Students then rate their knowlege of the word on a scale of one to four; one meaning "I've never heard that word" and four meaning "I could teach that word to the class". I also give the students the part of speech and a definition before setting them free to define the words. That's it for day one of vocabulary. I then ask my students to let the words hang out in their head for the next 24 hours. Day two of vocabulary consists of writing "show me you know" sentences from the provided sentence starters. These sentences are exactly what they sound like; I want to see that my students understand the words by completing the sentences correctly. What I don't want to see is the sentence completed with the definition. Any time a sentence is incorrect, I circle the vocab word in that sentence and write "why?". I explained to my students that I'm not seeing specifically why the sentence shows me you know what the word means. Not many students had issues with this part, but it's always good to keep an eye out. Lastly, I ask the students to rate their knowledge of the word after they've completed the handout. It's incredibly important to do the vocab in two parts, in two days. A lot of students like to rush through the vocab to get it done and that's not what I'm asking for. As you're going to hear a lot this year, as will my students, we've got to go slow to go fast. If we want our knowledge to stick, we've got to work with it slowly. Of course, before our Thursday quiz (which will take place on Fridays in five-day weeks), we played Quizlet Live and Kahoot on Wednesday.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How are the characters in "The Outsiders" being effected by their surroundings? Do you think that they're stuck with what they've got or can they get out of their situation?
2. What is your Independent Book Project goal for over Thanksgiving break? How will your efforts over Thanksgiving break affect your overall project?
3. How did the two-day vocabulary process help you understand the vocabulary better? Could you use this process in any other class?

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Week 9: The World Through the Eyes of the Outsiders (week of 11/4/16)

This week, we finally began S.E. Hinton's bestseller, The Outsiders. Monday, we explored infographics a bit more to get familiar with the platform and to complete our research. We also set our first goal for Friday, November 4. This quarter, the Independent Book Project is a little bigger in terms of the product and information required while being smaller and lighter on the reading. Goals are important because they can guide students towards success. I'm also trying to help my students avoid the stress of realizing that the project is due "tomorrow" and they still have nothing done. I want my students to have ownership of their work and goals give them a framework to guide them.The handout provided had four goal check-ins: Friday, November 4, the week of Thanksgiving, Friday, December 2, and Wednesday, December 7. These goals are incredibly important for success in this project. Students should be setting smart goals; in fact, they should be setting SMART goals (see picture). I understand that self-directed, independent book projects can be tough for students, especially this first year where they're gaining more independence, so I'm here for goal setting and some in-class work. However, it is important for students to put in some work at home or after school to ensure that they're meeting their goals in order to find success on this project.

Tuesday, we got to work on out unit folders for "The Outsiders" by taking a file folder and adding clipart or drawings to it. The students get to relax a bit as they work on the "fun" part, but they're actually interacting with different elements of the 1960s with real pictures. They're also, secretly, working on organization because this folder will keep their work for the unit in one place. They'll be able to access their folder at school in class as well as before/after school. We'll be working on the unit assignments (in the folder) mostly in class, so as long as students are using their time wisely they'll be absolutely fine.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent listening to the audio of the book. I got to share my love for the book a little on Wednesday and then we dove right in. Already, my students this year are proving why this book continues to be relevant in the middle school classroom. Thursday, my students came running in asking, "Are we reading "The Outsiders" today? All period? YES!!!" Already, they're connecting with the characters and they're starting to look at our essential questions. The guiding question for this unit is "How are people affected by their surroundings?" We also started talking about the idea of fitting in, being excluded, and who has it easier, the rich or the poor? Wednesday and Thursday were spent focussing on the first two chapters of the book. We simply just read the chapters in order to envelop ourselves in setting and characters without specifically focusing on them. Next week, we'll dig back into the chapters to fully focus on the setting as well as the characters and their traits. Eventually, our study will develop into a character development essay over the course of the novel. The students will moan and groan because its writing and work, but they like this essay because their connection to the characters makes it easier, or at the very least less painful.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. Who is your favorite character from "The Outsiders" so far? What makes them your favorite?
2. What is your Independent Book Project goal for over Thanksgiving break? How will your efforts over Thanksgiving break affect your overall project?
3. Have some of the characters in "The Outsiders" been affected by their surroundings? 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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Week 8: Red Ribbon Week/ The Teenage Brain, 1960s Pop Culture Phenomenon (week of 10/28/16)

This week was Red Ribbon Week, and oh what a week it was! Each day, every student on campus had the opportunity to dress up for a spirit day and compete as a homebase. Themes included twin day, "team up" against drugs (sports day), crazy sock day (in conjunction with the Socktober organization), green and gold/Lancer pride day, and red day. There was a door decorating contest and plenty of on-campus lunchtime activities to keep the students having fun while learning how to make good choices in regards to drugs and alcohol. You may have heard about our impactful guest speaker, nurse Linda Dutil, and her scary (and gross) presentation. What I appreciated (and the students, subliminally, did, too) was that her presentation was less a lecture and more a "here are the consequences of drug and alcohol use". The teenage brain is being rewired during puberty and a constant thought, whether subliminally or stated outright, is "it won't happen to me". A lot of seemingly stupid decisions happen during puberty because the part of the brain that really thinks about consequences isn't quite formed yet. Nurse Dutil's presentation showed the effects in living color instead of talking about them in theoretics. Sure the kids were grossed out, but the message was loud and clear and I'm certain it sank in.

 You may have also heard about the "drunk goggles" activity hosted by Friday Night Live (though I'm hoping that they were referred to in the correct manner as "fatal vision goggles"). The fatal vision goggles mimic the effects of various levels of alcohol and drug use on one's vision. Friday Night Live, the club I'm the advisor for, hosted a series of activities in the gym that show the real-world effects of drugs and alcohol on one's perceptive abilities. With the fatal vision goggles on, students were asked to complete tasks like walking a straight line, throwing a basketball into a basket, jumping rope and giving a high five, and drawing on a paper jack-o-lantern to put in the drug-free pumpkin patch. This is always a popular event because it gets the students interacting with these effects without having to ingest any illegal substances. I hope everyone got the intended message behind the activities: it may feel crazy when you're under the influence, but life is much tougher and less safe under the influence and you can't take the goggles off (the effects are much, much longer lasting).


Specifically in English class, we took a closer look at infographics, both professional and from my Quarter 2 IBP last year. Students really looked at the format of each infographic, picked their favorite, and then really dug into what worked for them. Doing this activity got them thinking about what kinds of information are on the infographics as well as how much of an expert they really need to become in order to successfully complete this project. Students also had a chance to do more research and get their sources using EasyBib. This process should help each student find success in the next couple of weeks as they take control of their research.

We also had a "quick and easy" presentation this week. As a means of presenting the background information on "The Outsiders", each student group was given a facet of the 1960s to research. Working as a group, students compiled the information into a Google Slideshow and practiced "Mr. Laffin's Slideshow Presentation Guidelines" before presenting back to the class. Students then took notes on every presentation and turned them in for credit. These presentations aren't graded on a  rubric and are meant to be practice for the students; they're also not given a ton of prep time in an effort to avoid dawdling and messing around. Everyone did a great job and we're ready to move on to "The Outsiders"!

Lastly, all students will be provided with a copy of "The Outsiders" 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 (and is pictured on the left).

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What was the most memorable part of Red Ribbon Week? What made it memorable?
2. What effects do drugs and alcohol have on your body?
3. Have you found all of your sources for the Independent Book Project? What work can be done now so the work doesn't pile up before the project is due?

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, October 23, 2016

Week 7: Looking Ahead and Researching our Passions (week of 10/21/16)



Who knew that seven weeks could fly by so fast? It feels like it was just last week when I got a new batch of timid seventh graders in my class, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and (mostly) ready for the school year. Here we are mid-October and they've found their voice, both in their writing and in presentations. They've dabbled in some personal responsibility and have either found success or have failed but learned something new for next time. We've worked had and played hard. Next week, you'll see the results of your son or daughter's work on their quarter report card. Whatever grades get sent home, use them as a tool for focussing on the future. If they're good grades, focus on how your son or daughter will keep them great. If they leave a little (or a lot) to be desired, form an action plan to find success in this next quarter. Review the tools available on and off campus as well as the support system that your son or daughter has (you, me, and the Laguna staff). Whatever the grades, please please please focus on the successes as much as the failures. Too often, we, as humans, focus on the negatives and forget that there actually are positives, too.
Please note: any assignments with a zero on PowerSchool will now remain a zero on PowerSchool; they cannot be made up at this point. If I received an assignment before the Friday, October 21st, 2016 deadline and it's not online, those assignments are the exception. I'm working on getting those graded and online.

The new quarter brings a new Independent Book Project. I spoke briefly about it in last week's blog, but I'll refresh your memory. This quarter, students are focussing on nonfiction (a specific topic that's not a biography or autobiography). There is no page limit this time; however, students must read five different sources with one of those, minimum, being a book. We'll be compiling the information we find into an infographic to present to the class. On Friday, we spent the day with Mrs. Schwoerer in the library talking about research and finding a book for this project. To do so, we reviewed the CRAAP test before checking out a book. The students did a great job looking for a book and/or source that perfectly meets the CRAAP criteria. As we move forward in this project, please help ensure that the online resources you son or daughter chooses also meets the CRAAP criteria.


Also this week, we studied theme. We got some notes on Monday, which was a bit more of a review since our sixth-grade teachers knocked it out of the park last year. I'm really impressed with the knowledge base my students are coming in with; that means we get to have more fun! Speaking of fun, I gave my students a picture book on Wednesday and had them read it aloud and find the theme in their small groups. Together, they identified the theme and found three pieces of support from the story. They then elaborated on their support and how it fit the theme. I had them compile this information onto a poster to present back to the class in what we call a "quick and easy" presentation. These presentations, from creation to conclusion, take less than two days. They teach my students to work smarter, not harder, and to really focus on the important information. We'll be doing another "quick and easy" presentation next week to introduce "The Outsiders".

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What were your successes this quarter? How can they help you as we move into second quarter? What were your failures this quarter? What did they teach you for second quarter?
2. What is the CRAAP method when you're researching a topic? Why is it important?
3. What topic did you choose for your Independent Book Project? Where can you find good, credible sources to support your research for this project?

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, October 14, 2016

Week 6: Amazing Presentations and Saying Goodbye to Quarter 1 (week of 10/14/16)

This week, we wrapped up our first quarter Independent Book Project (IBP) by presenting our projects to our classmates. Every student was responsible for presenting a quick author biography, their theme statement sentence, and an exciting, interesting, or funny passage from their book. These presentations were quick and easy, running around 3-5 minutes a piece. During presentations, the students in the audience were responsible for making a note of something they liked about the presentation, something they learned from that presentation, and something that the presenter can improve on for next time. We shared the first two notes with our elbow partners, then with the presenter (leaving the "what can improve" conversation on paper). Grades for these presentations, as well as the written portion of this project, are up on PowerSchool.

I've got to say, the presentation skills in my classes are higher than I've ever seen before! I'm my five short years of teaching, I've never had a group of students whose skills were so high on their first presentation. Already, I've seen great eye contact that "sprinklers" across the audience. I've heard loud, scholarly voices with very few "filler words" (um, yeah, uh, so, like...). I've seen poise, confidence, and very little fidgeting. I'm very impressed with this first batch of presentations. I'm excited to see our skills develop throughout the semester. Between now and the end of the first semester, we have three more  presentations. One presentation is a quick and easy group presentation, another is a professional group presentation on bullying, and the final is a solo professional presentation for the second quarter book project.

Moving into next week, we'll be talking about theme a little deeper to prepare us for "The Outsiders". I'll talk a little more in-depth about the novel in a future blog, but I have a few things I can tell you now. Our focus for "The Outsiders" is mainly on characterization with some focus on theme and plot elements. The book will be read entirely in class, but many students will love the book so much they'll want their own copy. I don't require students to have their own copy (copies will be provided), but I absolutely support them having their own copy. I use my copy as a model for note-taking, deeper thinking, and questioning the text. I show students the quotes that stick out and mean something to me as well as the character notes I've made. They'll be able to take these notes on paper or online, but being able to write in a book is fun when it's allowed.

Speaking of the future, I'll be introducing the 2nd Quarter Independent Book Project next Thursday. Our focus this time around is non-fiction. I'm stressing to my students that they choose a topic they're interested in (not a person, though). In fact, their topic should fascinate them. I'm totally with them when they say non-fiction is dry and boring, but there's a way around it... pick something you're interested in! With their topic chosen, we'll spend Friday in the library checking out a book, compiling research, and beginning to build our infographic for the project. While the technology is easy once we get used to it, the project itself will be challenging. We'll be doing a lot of research to become the expert on our topic (five sources total, one book minimum). However, infographics don't have a ton of words (see my example on the left). As experts on our topic, we'll be presenting far more than what's on the infographic.
This project was a hit with my students last year and is bound to be fun this year. I love being able to cover the writing standards in a way that's real-world applicable. My students should absolutely be writing a lot, both by hand and on the computer, but I like to give them the real skill that will help them in high school, college, and beyond. The same ideas and information presented in a research essay can be presented in an infographic; the formatting is just different.


Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What are two things you know you did well on in your presentation this week? Why did you do those things well? What are two things you know you need to work on? How can you improve in those areas?
2. What are this week's five academic vocabulary words? Use them correctly in a sentence.
3. What interests you? Is there something you're interested in that you'd like to focus your research on?

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, October 8, 2016

Week 7: The District Writing Assessment and How to be a Professional, Academic, and Scholarly Presenter (week of 10/07/16)


This week we started with the District Writing Assessment (DWA). First, we reviewed plot and characterization with a rousing game of Quizlet Live. Sadly, there wasn't enough time for Kahoot this week but the students really had great conversations about the vocabulary and story elements. We ended the day with a discussion of the prompt for the DWA and fifteen minutes of planning time. All that my students were expected to do was to think of a narrative, either pure fiction or personal narrative, and write down their story arc in any way they chose. Monday was solely dedicated to getting an idea on paper. Tuesday, students got the whole period to type their story on Google Drive. I stressed to the students that this was a timed, 54-minute assessment and we, as teachers, aren't looking for the world's greatest story. Students in middle school across the district are taking the same assessment in the same amount of time. Whatever was done at the end of the assessment period is what got done; no additional time is available for this assessment. The good news is that it's not worth a ton of points in the gradebook; we're just trying to get a gauge of how our students are learning.

Speaking of getting a gauge of how students are learning, our first "life test" is coming up next week. By "life test", I mean that I'm asking students to show what they know. Of course, I'm talking about the Independent Book Project. On Friday, students turned in a short author biography for the author of their book on Google Classroom. They also identified the theme of the book, supported themselves with three pieces of evidence (quotes or paraphrased information) and elaborated on those quotes. Beginning on Monday, October 10, 2016, students will be presenting this information to the class (both the author biography and first sentence of the theme statement paragraph) along with a selected passage from their book. To make sure we're up to speed on what makes a great presentation, I handed them the presentation rubric, talked about the finer points of the rubric, and had them grade me on three separate presentations. One thing I'm passionate about is helping my students be the best presenters they can be as well as providing them with tips and tricks to be less nervous/anxious about presenting. The biggest piece of advice I give them is to be prepared. Practice makes confidence and truly makes one look like a professional, scholarly, and academic presenter. Please note: Students chose their own presentation time slot and date. Students who come up to me stating that they're "not ready to present" will be offered two options: present and hope for the best OR don't present and earn a zero, no makeups. This project has been public knowledge for quite some time and we've discussed it at length in class so a lack of preparedness is unacceptable. Absent students will be issued a makeup but the project presentation must be made up before the end of quarter one for credit.

Lastly, I ended the week off campus. Mr. Taylor graciously took over my class Thursday and Friday while I was at an AVID training (Thursday) and in Monterey for the ASILOMAR English Teacher conference (Friday-Sunday). Both of these trainings/conferences are going to help me to continue to grow as an educator, so thank you for trusting me and my chosen guest teachers to take care of business. Griffin Taylor is an exceptional guest teacher and I'm glad that I've been able to "steal" him when I'm off campus. With Mr. Taylor, students practiced good presentation skills on Thursday and Friday. I also left the students a 55-word story where they were to write a story SHOWING a character's traits, not telling them (though they may not have gotten to this assignment because they were so busy rocking their presentation practice).

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What elements make up a good presentation? What do you think you'll need the most work on? Why do you need work? How can you help yourself get better in this area? Can I watch you practice your presentation and offer you some support?
2. What are this week's five academic vocabulary words? Use them correctly in a sentence.
3. In creating your Independent Book Project, what worked well for you? What didn't work well for you? Were any of these elements in your control? Which ones? How could you control them?

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, October 4, 2016

Week 6: The IBP is Near! (week of 9/30/16)

This week, we continued our focus of characterization. We started the week off by watching the Pixar short, "La Luna" and making inferences as to the types of characters the boy, the father, and the grandfather were. The clues we were given were indirect characterization, or those obtained through the STEAL method (what they SAY, what they THINK, their EFFECT on others, their ACTIONS, and what they LOOK like, both clothing and facial expressions/body language). We made inferences and then elaborated on them, explaining our thinking and the reasoning behind it. If your son or daughter has Mr. Townsend, they're already familiar with evidence and elaboration. Mr. T and I echo each other a lot and evidence/elaboration is something we feel it is integral to a valid, cohesive argument. My students did amazing with their inferences and support!

We strengthened our understanding of characterization through watching "Partly Cloudy", you guessed it, another Pixar short. This time, I took the training wheels partly off, so to speak. I had the students watch the short twice and annotate what they saw was going on. Again, they made inferences and supported their thinking with evidence and elaboration. We did this think-write-pair-share style where each student was responsible for thinking and writing on their own before they shared with a neighbor, and eventually the whole class. Next week, they'll be putting their knowledge to the test on the District-wide writing assessment. This assessment is a narrative writing piece. I'll have more information for you next after the assessment. I know that my students are going to do amazing!

Lastly, we ended the week by going over the rubrics for the written portion of the Independent Book Project. I first explained the wording on the rubrics and what I was expecting. As we went through, we looked at the somewhat ambiguous wording (the rubrics are unedited, state-adopted rubrics that the SBAC test uses) and decoded it to discover exactly what was being asked of us. Then, I gave students four sample writing pieces for this project. They then used the rubric to assign a grade to each piece of writing. After each piece, we discussed the grades given and why those grades were earned as a class before I revealed the score I gave it and why I graded it that way. It turns out we were all pretty much on the same page and my students know what's being asked of them. Impressive!

As a note: extra rubrics and guidelines are available on Google Classroom and have been for the past month. A copy of the plot diagram is also available on Google Classroom. The written portion will be submitted digitally through Google Classroom; the plot diagram is to be turned in on paper in class. Both assignments are due Friday, October 7, 2016.


Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How is your Independent Book Project going? Is your best work being turned in on Friday? Why or why not?
2. What are this week's five academic vocabulary words? Use them correctly in a sentence.
3. How do plot and characterization work together to create a good and satisfying story.

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, September 25, 2016

Week 5: The School Year's First Progress Report (week of 9/23/16)

Time sure is flying this year. I can't believe that we're already halfway through our first quarter!

Soon, progress reports will be mailed home. They're exactly what they sound like, a report of your son or daughter's progress in their classes so far. Progress reports aren't official and won't appear on any transcript; they serve as a "heads up" for those students and parents who aren't checking PowerSchool regularly. Hopefully, you'll see no surprises. Again, I strongly suggest checking in on PowerSchool at least once every week to ensure that assignments are turned in while they're still relevant. There's even an app for your phone that keeps you logged in constantly, so easy! Remember, the most important tool for student success in middle school is the parent-teacher-student triad. We must all work together in order to ensure success. Please don't hesitate to talk with your son or daughter about missing assignments or low scores (I'm always happy to discuss these as well, but please speak with them first).

As we talked about at Back to School Night and in previous blog posts, middle school is the time for your son or daughter to start testing the waters, so to speak, in regards to autonomy and responsibility. Middle school is safe and a good portion of teachers are willing to work with students to help them be successful. I was reading an article the other day that pretty much sums up the advice I was going to give you at this point in the school year. Titled "The Homework Helper", Educational Therapist Janel A. Umfress offers some tips and tricks to help your son or daughter find success in middle school:

Have Supplies at the Ready: “First off, make sure supplies—pens, pencils, paper, scissors—are easily accessible. That way, your child can do the task efficiently and effectively without any distractions.”

Plan it Out: “Oftentimes children get overwhelmed when they have numerous different assignments. Helping them prioritize their work and think about how much time each will take can tremendously smooth out the process. Just remember: It’s important to allow them to choose which assignment they want to get started on first—that way they’ll learn the importance of making their own decisions.”

Know When to Help: “In terms of how involved you should be in your child’s assignment, think of it like teaching them to ride a bike. You’re right there behind them if they fall, but you’re letting them do all the work until that happens. If you’re too present as a parent, your kid will get to thinking they can’t do the work without your help.”

Homework is Life: “Helping your child put their schoolwork into context—i.e., applying the lesson at hand to something they know really well, like their favorite outdoor activity or game—is a huge motivator. Plus, learning things that can be applied to the real world is the whole point of getting an education, isn’t it?”



Patience is Key: “It’s important to realize that when a kid says, ‘I can’t do it,’ it could mean they can’t do it in that moment. It’s easy to feel your kid is being oppositional or lazy, but sometimes they just need a soft nudge. Those are the best times to step in and lend a hand.”


Take a Break: “If your child is getting frustrated, take a short break. Down time, whether that be reading a book or playing outside, really encourages creativity. Though, I would recommend staying away from phones and computers, as they can be seriously distracting to a child trying to get their work done.”


Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. Who is your favorite character from a book? What makes them your favorite character?
2. What are this week's five academic vocabulary words? Use them correctly in a sentence.
3. What is the STEAL method when we're talking about characterization? Which one do you think is the most important and why?

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