Saturday, January 23, 2016

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

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.

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

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