Friday, January 29, 2016

Week 21: Do it for Johnny! (Week of 1/29/2016)

English
Well, we're at the point in "The Outsiders" where we've not only lost Johnny Cade, but Dally Winston also. It's the hardest point to teach because we've spent so long with these characters and love them so much, watching them die brings shock, sadness, and even some tears (even I still get choked up). I love teaching this novel because the students, year after year, get so invested in these characters that it's devastating when they die. How wonderful is it that there are characters so well written that their loss is so incredibly real? (hello, Harry Potter series, I'm talking to you).
Today in class was the definitive proof of this novel's value and why I still continue to teach it. Are there novels out there that are just as engaging but more "modern"? I'm sure there are. Do I want to teach them? It'll take a lot of convincing. When I teach "The Outsiders", I not only "do it for Johnny", but I do it for the sheer love of literature my students develop.

Spend some time talking with your son or daughter this weekend about this part of the book: why did the death of these characters hit us so hard?

Keith Hawkins is coming!!!
At 6:30 on the evening of Thursday, February 4, 2016, Laguna Middle School is welcoming back the inspiring speaker, Keith Hawkins. He was here at Laguna two years ago and was a smashing success. This year, he's back again twofold. On Thursday night, he'll be hosting a parent night here at Laguna for students and parents alike. If you're able to, please make plans to join us for what will be an incredible evening. On Friday, all students at Laguna will get a chance to see Keith Hawkins in a school-wide assembly.


On Monday and Wednesday of this week, I discussed the project guidelines for this quarter's Independent Book Project with my classes. All students received a green packet of guidelines, a blue calendar, and a pink packet of rubrics (I'll be adding another rubric soon). We went over these guidelines and important dates in depth and took a quiz on them on Thursday. Please discuss the guidelines with your son and daughter. Extra copies of the guidelines, rubrics, and calendar are available on my website on the KBAR/IBP tab.


Here are some important notes to be mindful of:
-The first book club meeting is Friday, February 5. Students must have their fiction books by that date and 1/5 of it should be read for the book club meeting.
-Book club meetings will take place on five Fridays: 2/5, 2/12, 2/19, 2/26, and 3/4.
     -A computer lab takeover will be held from 3-4pm 3/7-3/11
     -Presentations will be held 3/14-3/17.
     -Prior to each meeting, students must type (or nicely hand-write) one paragraph on that week's topic. These paragraphs are due in class on book club meeting days. Prompts will be handed out on Monday in class.
     -Topics of discussion will include: story elements (plot, setting), characterization, point of view, tone and purpose, and theme.
     -Students will be responsible for turning a reflection on their group's discussion and progress prior to leaving class on book club meeting days.


And one more thing, the infographics that the students created for their second quarter Independent Book Project are now officially live on my website!!! Click here or paste this link into your browser and explore all of their hard work (https://sites.google.com/a/slcusd.org/laffin/quarter-2-infographics).

AVID
We deepened our knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe this week with an article on tuberculosis, the deadly disease that spread rapidly in Poe's time. Through the article, we learned how the disease effects the human body, the symptoms of the disease, and how easily (or not easily) it's spread. We then took our knowledge and inferred how it effected Edgar Allan Poe, noting that the medical advances we have weren't around when he was alive, causing the disease to spread rapidly without much to stop it. With the world dying around Poe, it became obvious to us why his writing was so dark.

On a similar note, I want to shout-out my AVID class. I got a text from my sub on Tuesday and she was absolutely floored with how awesome my students were! Not only were they respectful and mature, but they had an amazing conversation about Edgar Allan Poe and tuberculosis. They really impressed her so we celebrated on Friday with a movie and snack day. Way to rock it, AVID!!!


Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What character do you most connect with in "The Outsiders"? Why do you connect with them?
-What do you like about your book club book so far?
-How would you describe the main character of your book? What challenges are they facing so far? Do you think they'll overcome those challenges?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Week 20: New Beginnings and Reflecting (Week of 1/122/2016)

English
With the beginning of the new semester comes a chance to start over. At Laguna, grades are reset to zero so all students can start over fresh. In my class, we ended the week by reflecting on last semester's progress and looking to the future. I am very impressed with the infographics my students turned in. I am working on putting the links on my website for public viewing. I'll keep you posted on when the site goes live.


As grades come out, it's important to have a conversation with your child whether the grades are good or not-so-good. Praise their successes, no matter how small. Celebrate their victories. Open a dialogue about where they need improvement and what they can do to ensure success in this next quarter and semester. It's easy to be upset if the semester didn't turn out as well as we'd wished, but a well-placed, honest conversation will go much further than expressing anger or disappointment. As part of their English class reflection, I really have my students think about everything that was in their power this semester. It's really easy to blame the teachers for poor grades, but I remind my students that we simply put the grade online based on what the student earned. The power really is in their hands.


Putting the power in the student's hands ensure that they know they're in control and are more than capable of changing their trajectory at any moment. Here are some suggestions to help your child take the reins and steer their ship towards success: Periodically check in with them in a non-threatening way, have them check their grades on PowerSchool weekly (ask them to show you how to check PowerSchool, even if you already know how), go over rubrics and project guidelines to see where questions lie and to understand the expectations and timelines for each project, and celebrate their victories.


With the new school quarter comes a new Independent Book Project. This quarter, we're back to reading fiction. The new page minimum is 120 pages. Books for this project must be new books for the students; no repeat reads. Lastly, students will be working in small groups of three to four students as a "book club". Each "book club" will be reading the same book and meeting weekly to discuss a pre-selected topic. The quarter will end with their group presentation of a travelogue, a travel journal they wrote as they "visited" their book's setting and interacted with its characters. The purpose of this project is to foster communication and collaboration in small student groups and to discuss literature in groups to strengthen understanding of story elements (plot, characterization, conflict), author’s tone and purpose, point of view, and theme. This project was adapted from a project Mr. Townsend's class will be doing this year when they study the Maya, Aztec, and Inca empires in history as well as from the project Ms. Knuttila's classes will be doing for their Independent Book Projects in her English classes. Thanks to both fo them for sharing such amazing ideas!











Barnes and Noble has a 2 for $20 deal on teen/ young adult books right now. Maybe your child's book is on there! Sweet deal!!!

The project guidelines, calendar, and rubrics are all going out Monday and I'll be discussing the project in full with my students then. The rubrics are also available on my website under the "KBAR/IBPs" tab. Here are some important notes to be mindful of:
-The first book club meeting is Friday, February 5. Students must have their fiction books by that date and 1/5 of it should be read for the book club meeting.
-Book club meetings will take place on five Fridays: 2/5, 2/12, 2/19, 2/26, and 3/4.
     -Presentations will be held 3/14-3/17.
     -A computer lab takeover will be held from 3-4pm 3/7-3/11.
     -Prior to each meeting, students must type (or nicely hand-write) one paragraph on that week's topic. These paragraphs are due in class on book club meeting days.
     -Topics of discussion will include: story elements (plot, setting), characterization, point of view, tone and purpose, and theme.
     -Students will be responsible for turning a reflection on their group's discussion and progress prior to leaving class on book club meeting days.

AVID
We moved on from reading "The Raven" to learning about Edgar Allan Poe's life. Our goal was to find an answer to the essential question, "how are people affected by their surroundings?". Poe's biography is merely the tip of the iceberg concerning the pain that caused Poe to write so many incredible stories and poems. From his biography alone we learned of failed love, family issues, and mental disorders that plagued Poe. Speaking of the plague, we'll also be learning about the tuberculosis epidemic that killed the world around Poe. Did it have an effect on his writing? Most certainly. How? That's what we'll be discovering.

 
Fun Friday started with a first-semester survey. I really wanted to get a gauge of what my students found fun and interesting as well as where they'd like more support. We ended fun Friday with a teambuilding and communication game I learned at a summer camp I worked at in college. It's called the Human Knot and pushes all students out of their comfort zone and relies heavily on communication and teamwork. First, students raise their right hand and then grab someone else's right hand from the group (not directly to their left or right). Students then repeat the process with their left hand, essentially tangling the entire group. The students then have to get themselves untangled. If anyone lets go without my explicit permission (some hand-holding reformation was necessary), we have to start all over again. We got off to four false-starts and debriefed after each round. Eventually, every student caught on to the tricks of the game, buckled down, and communicated effectively. Time was not on our side and we didn't have a chance to finish, but we were on the road to victory.




A special shout-out to Mrs. Schwoerer for letting us tie our human knot in the library! Thanks for being so supportive of both my AVID class and my English classes. YOU ROCK!!!

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What book did your group choose for the Independent Book Project?
-What will be easy about working in a book club group? What might be tough?
-What are your educational goals for this new semester?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Week 19: Amazing Infographics and Communication Capers (Week of 1/15/2016)

English
Well, we did it! Semester one is officially on the books. I hope that this semester you son or daughter learned a lot and grew.

We ended the semester on a high note with the presentation of our infographics. For KBAR, students were to choose nonfiction books and online sources/articles. My students created infographics to showcase their research all quarter on the nonfiction topic of their choice. Since late October, here's what we've been up to:
     -students chose their nonfiction topic, they had free choice! (week of October 26)
     -I checked in with students on their progress (November 16, November 30, December 7, and January 4)
     -we had "boot camp" days in class where we had the majority of the period to work (after a tutorial on one of the parts of our infographic). This was with the check-in days
     -we had a "G-2 lab takeover" January 4-8 after school to continue working on our infographics in a quiet place with my support

My sample infographic:

I knew I was taking a huge risk when I took on and created this unit since I'd never done this project before. Taking what I learned first semester, I checked in with my students more often and gave more in-class time to work. I also hosted the lab takeover which was pretty popular for our nonfiction bullying project. The check-ins and bootcamps resulted in some pretty amazing infographics. I not only learned a lot about many different topics, but I also saw my students shine as they presented their products; they've really gotten good at professional and scholarly presentations. The products themselves are pretty incredible, too! I'm sure if you ask your son or daughter, they'll be more than happy to show off their hard work to you (my sample is pictured on the left). I am really proud of my students and their accomplishments this quarter. Overall, I am happy with the products my students have turned in. I noticed that there was a lot of good listening going on this quarter in regards to the different technology pieces we used to complete this project.

Regarding the Independent Book Project, you may notice a score that isn't so great. Overall, this project was a success for the majority of my students. However, some students are struggling to find success and maybe didn't do so hot on this project. Unfortunately, the end of the semester is a firmer "end" than the quarter and I am not able to offer project makeups for this Independent Book Project. However, now is a great time to review the rubrics and guidelines with your son or daughter (available on my website on the KBAR page; I am also sending the scored rubrics home Tuesday). I'd like to echo what Mr. Townsend said over on his blog: grades, whether on an assignment or for the entire semester, do not define the person. Good or bad, it's important to take the comments on these assignments or semester grades and make a plan to move forward. Celebrate the victories, no matter how small, and move forward into greatness. Grades are always a teachable moment; finding success in life means taking the victories or failures, figuring out the lesson attached to them, and moving forward armed with the new knowledge.

Some notes for both you and your son/daughter as we go into the second semester: 
-when sharing documents on Google Drive: DO NOT create Docs on Google Docs. Go to Google Drive, click the shared English folder, and then create a new Doc.
     -If the Doc, Slides, Forms, or Sheets are created in the right place, there's no need to click the blue "share" button.
-following directions: Please take a moment to review the importance of reading and following directions and rubrics while working on a project so that important portions aren't left out and projects are completed correctly.
-ask questions: don't wait until the day the project is due (or later) to let your teacher know that you didn't understand the project's directions. Use the rubrics to guide your progress on your work. Don't know what the rubric is actually saying? Don't know how to complete a specific portion of the project? Ask questions. I am always happy to help those who ask for it. I want my students to be successful.

AVID
This week in AVID was a quick one! We had time for one tutorial this week and my students did great, as usual. On Monday, we dove deeper into "The Raven" by translating the entire poem into 2016 words. Each student got one stanza of the poem and was asked to read the stanza and think deeply about it. They then translated it into words everyone at school could understand. It was a long process, longer than many students are comfortable with, but it was a rousing success. We read the translated poem as a class and it was incredible! Paired with their "snapshot" (drawing) of their stanza, we have a much deeper understanding of the poem and can now move onto the fun stuff like rhyme scheme, symbolism, allusion, and Poe's inspiration for it all.

On Friday, Ms. Ahearn's class joined us for a communication activity. Students got a partner and faced them forming two lines; line A and line B. The lines then were instructed to ask 20 questions to their partner, get the answers, and repeat them back at once. Ms. Ahearn and I had a trick up our sleeve; about two minutes into the activity, we got "bored" and moved the activity outside by the PE classes, who were playing volleyball. The communication was tough in the class with 24 people talking, but it was much tougher outside with those same people talking plus the wind and the PE classes. The students soon figured out what it would take to be successful in this activity, intentional communication and active listening. It was a great note to end the semester on!

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What was your favorite thing that you learned this semester?
-What are you looking forward to in this next semester?
-What have you learned about the work load in middle school? What can you do to help yourself manage your time and find success?
-Which characters in "The Outsiders" are starting to change dynamically? How do you know that they're changing dynamically?
-Think about your first impression of a character or person, did it change as you got to know them? Are our first impressions always correct? What do they tell us about other people and ourselves?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Week 18: Happy New Year! (Week of 1/8/2016)

It's been a while since my last update. I hope everyone had a restful and fun winter break with family, friends, and some well-deserved rest.

English
We hit the ground running on Monday buy jumping right back into "The Outsiders". We're cruising along on the book and it's obvious to me that the students are truly enjoying this novel. Along with listening to the audio of the book and reading along this week found us Speed Dating again, this time with a review of chapters 5 and 6. We also took a look at the different types of conflict that make a story so interesting.

A necessary part of any good story, conflict is a problem between two or more opposing forces that drives a story. Of the five types of conflict, we're learning about four: character vs. self, character vs. character, character vs. society, and character vs. nature. The fifth, character vs. technology (any tool created for a purpose), will be added when we read "The Giver". As we identified the type of conflicts and who/what is involved, we looked deeper to infer the effect those conflict may have on the characters of the book. I saw many "a-ha/lightbulb" moments this week as one of our essential questions, "how are people/characters shaped by their environment/surroundings?", stepped to the forefront and answers became obvious. As with the refugee project in Mr. Townsend, Ms. Knuttila, and Mr. Benitez's classes, students are seeing that environment plays an important world in how people, and their character traits, are shaped.

Through our review game (Speed Dating), it's obvious to me that my students aren't simply reading the book. They're digesting it, digging deeper, and living this story alongside the characters. They're thinking deeply about how the conflicts these characters goes through shape the plot and the lives of the characters. They were so excited to answer the questions and share their knowledge and opinions with their partners. We're at the point in the book where some characters are changing because of their circumstances and my students are noticing, putting themselves in the shoes of their favorite character and wondering "what if?". Soon, we'll be continuing our character development essay armed with the knowledge of who's static and who's dynamic in "The Outsiders". I predict great success for my students on this essay.

Some upcoming events:
-Independent Book Project Presentations (week of January 11-14)
-the end of the quarter (Thursday, January 14)
-the second District Writing Assessment (take home; historical narrative; week of January 17-21).
Please check in with your student regarding their progress on their independent book project as well as how they're doing in all of their classes. I am incredibly proud of the large number of students who made a mature and responsible decision to hang out and work after school for this week's "G-2 library lab takeover". Three of the four days, I had 20+ students all working hard! The infographics look great; I can't wait to see everyone's presentations and learn about the topic they chose to research for their nonfiction project.

AVID
This week, we dug deeper into Edgar Allan Poe's, "The Raven". After a brief review, students were each assigned one stanza of the poem. They then were given the challenge of "translating" the stanza into "2016 language" (something anyone from any class on campus could understand). Up to this point, we've read the poem seven times, defined vocabulary words, and discussed the poem on the surface level through comprehension questions. After doing all that, my students showed me they were confident to continue on to the next step and they amazed me with their "translations"! While this process is a slow one, it's important to slow down and take our time to get a deeper understanding of the poem and to find meaning that just can be found by reading the poem once. I am impressed by my students' attention to detail as we comb through the poem. This process will be all the more meaningful when we jump into rhyme scheme, symbolism, and irony later in the month.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-How are your grades in all of your classes looking for the end of the semester?
-What did you learn about the topic you chose for your independent book project?
-Did making goals and checking-in with Mr. Laffin benefit you this quarter? Why or why not?
-Which characters in "The Outsiders" are starting to change dynamically? How do you know that they're changing dynamically?
-What do you think you'll do well on in your presentation next week? Where do you think you'll struggle and how can you get help in that area?

Warmest wishes,
Kevin Laffin