Sunday, February 28, 2016

Week 25: The Great Water Debate and the Tell Tale Heart (week of 2/26/2016)

English
This week, we moved on from "The Outsiders" into our new unit, Tap versus Bottled water (you'll see our thoughts on tap water (left), bottled water (right, middle), and how schools should provide water for students (left, bottom)). This unit is an argumentative writing unit that tackles the question, which is better, tap or bottled water? Throughout this unit, students will be reading multiple nonfiction texts to determine whether tap or bottled water is better, and also figuring out what better means to them; is it better for your health? for the environment? This unit will also get students to take a side in the argument and build their case with cold, hard fact. We've already stated our opinions multiple times in the mere week we've been talking about water and many students have reasons that they believe one is better than the other. By the end of the unit, we'll have a sound argument backed with scholarly facts.

The end product for this unit is an argumentative essay. As before with "The Outsiders" character development essay or the expository (informative) essay with the bullying unit, we'll be working on this essay piece by piece. I like this process because it takes the pain out of writing. We'll be writing together in class under my guidance. Mrs. Schwoerer blessed us with our very own class set of Chromebooks that officially  resides in G6 so we're set to work whenever we want. Building the essay together makes it easy to catch mistakes or answer questions early so the process is smooth. Plus, it makes the need for a computer or internet access at home close to none, so it's a win-win for all of my amazing students.

I'd also like to touch on the current gradebook. I've been getting a lot of students asking me this week, "when are you going to grade [assignment that was turned in late]?" Rest assured, I'm working hard to get all of the work I've collected graded and in the gradebook. However, it should be noted that I am grading the on-time work first and the late/absent work when I'm done. I have one pile of the bulk, on time assignments that I'm currently digging through. That means that I may not get to late or absent work for another week or so. I apologize for the delay, but on-time work is my priority. Please rest assured that I'm working diligently to get all work graded and in the gradebook. I like to keep my gradebook as current as possible.

AVID
Speaking of moving on, we moved on from "The Raven" this week and started "The Tell Tale Heart". After such a fun unit on symbolism in "The Raven", my students were begging for another Poe classic. We began by listening to the audio of the short story on Monday. The students loved the chilling rendition that slowly transformed from eerie and quiet to sheer madness. The story itself begs the question, is the narrator a reliable narrator? Why or why not? We'll be looking at the narrator's reliability as well as the different types of irony (situational, verbal, and dramatic).

To start, we combed through the short story and pulled out the vocabulary that we didn't understand. I reminded my students to imagine I was giving them a quiz on the vocabulary and to choose words they'd think would be on the quiz. I, of course, was not giving them a quiz but I wanted to get them thinking about really digging into the meaning of words and truly asking themselves, do I know what this word means? We played Kahoot! on Thursday to study 20 of the words that are really important to understanding the short story.

Our week ended with my favorite board game, Pictionary. The class was split into two groups and they competed against each other in drawing a picture that accurately represented the word their groups would be trying to guess. They had a lot of fun working as a team and supporting each other to get the clues.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What are the pros and cons of tap water? What about bottled water?
-Has your opinion of which is better, bottled or tap, changed since last week? Why or why not?
-Why is it important to include facts, or concrete details, in your argument? What does it do to your argument?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Week 24: Tracing Character Development and The Raven Takes Flight (Week of 2/19/2016)

English
This week, we finished up our character development essay. Way back in November, students chose one of the five main characters from "The Outsiders" and made an assertion as to the type of person that character was (character traits). That was at the beginning of the novel. We forgot about those assertions as we read through the novel and dug deeper into characterization, eventually coming back to our original assertion last week. Now that we'd finished the novel, we were ready to make an assertion as to the character and whether they were static or dynamic (unchanged or changed, respectively). To do that, we started by rereading our original paragraph and then writing a second, now looking at the character at the end of the novel. We wrapped up the body of our work by talking about the "agent of change", or what cause a dynamic change in our character (or what should have caused a change in a static character). Finally, we added an introduction and conclusion to our work and we're ready to peer edit. We'll be peer editing on Monday in class and the final draft will be due Tuesday, February 23, 2016, in class.


Not only can we celebrate finishing our character development essay, but students have the opportunity to enter it into Laguna's Writing Celebration! Entries can be any piece of writing that a student is proud of in these categories: informational writing (like our character development essay or nonfiction KBAR project infographics), argumentative writing, and poetry. The writing can be from a class your student is taking this year at Laguna, but does not have to be. If they're proud of it, they should enter it! The deadline to enter is Friday, March 11, 2016. Students will be submitting their writing through their English teachers. If you'd like more information, please feel free to contact me or Mrs. Rollinger at arollinger@slcusd.org.

Lastly, I was invited into Mr. Townsend's third-period class to see their Japan assessment. It was great to see all of the students taking their knowledge and applying it in a real way, what I call a "life test", to create an engaging comic strip. All of the students were working hard to put their knowledge to the test, depicting a day-in-the-life of a noble, a samurai, or a peasant. One of our shared students quipped that this assignment was similar to the infographics we made in my class last semester and that she liked this style of presenting information. I couldn't agree more! What a cool way to show off your knowledge through pictures and text. It's certainly much more exciting that a formal pen-and-paper assessment. Well done students!!!


AVID
This week, we wrapped up our study of "The Raven" by applying our knowledge of symbolism and colors to the poem itself. In small groups, students decoded the symbols in the poem, created a poster, and presented back to the class. It was inspiring to see the students work so hard on this admittedly long (necessarily long) unit of study. They got such a deeper understanding of the poem by looking at the poem multiple times, deciphering all that the poem had to offer. We came to the conclusion that the raven itself never actually existed in the poem; it was a hallucination of sorts, brought on by the narrator's overwhelming grief from losing his love, Lenore. The raven? It's a symbol of the author's nagging depression. Will it ever go away? Nevermore.

Next week, we're moving on to another Poe classic, "The Tell-Tale Heart". With this short story, we'll be looking at vocabulary again but also looking at point of view and its effect on a story as well as the different types of irony (situational, verbal, and dramatic). The students are sure to love this creepy, mysterious tale of a man gone mad.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What is final form? Why should your work be turned in in final form?
-What writing have you done this year, in any class, that you'd like to enter into the Writing Celebration?

-What is your preference, tap water or bottled water? Why?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Week 23: Characterization and Contests (Week of 2/12/2016)

English



This week, we had our second Book Club meeting. Characterization was our focus this week and the students did a great job discussing their characters at length. Our sub-focus for Book Clubs this week was having a meaningful conversation. I noticed, through no fault of the students, that their talks we focussed on answering the study questions and not taking the conversation any further. With this mental note, I taught them briefly about conversation skills and provided them with sentence frames to take their conversations to the next level. They did an awesome job!


This month, we're gearing up for the Laguna Writing Celebration. All Laguna Middle School students are encouraged to enter their writing into the celebration. Entries can be any piece of writing that a student is proud of in these categories: informational writing, argumentative writing, and poetry. The writing can be from a class your student is taking this year at Laguna, but does not have to be. If they're proud of it, they should enter it! The deadline to enter is Friday, March 11, 2016. Students will be submitting their writing through their English teachers. If you'd like more information, please feel free to contact me or Mrs. Rollinger at arollinger@slcusd.org.

Speaking of contests, Mrs. Schwoerer is hosting a photo contest for our budding Lancer photographers! This year's theme is Simply the Best @ Laguna. Students can take a picture of anything they feel exemplifies what's best about Laguna Middle School! Entering is simple, just email the photo to Mrs. Schwoerer (lschwoerer@slcusd.org) with your name and a caption describing how your photo fits this year's theme. Prizes will be awarded for students who place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and the winning images will be posted on the LAMS homepage as well as the LAMS Library homepage. How exciting!

AVID
This week, we dug a little deeper into Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", this time hunting for symbolism. We started off the week by finishing the symbolism posters we created last week with our guest teacher. Students were to choose a symbol, talk about its literal and figurative meaning, and identify any color symbolism that may be connected to their symbol. Students then did a "quick and easy" presentation for their classmates. We then continued our study by digging back into "The Raven" in small groups, this time looking for symbolic objects and colors that may give us deeper meaning into the author's tone and purpose. We're not done quite yet, but I heard some incredible, deep discussion going on in the small groups! I'm a little surprised that we're not tired of this poem yet, but how could we be? It's so good!!! (OK, that's just me personal opinion).

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-Which character are you writing about for your character development essay? How would you describe them at the beginning of "The Outsiders"?
-Are they a static or dynamic character? How do you know? 

-If they changed, what cause that change? If they didn't, what caused them to stay the same?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Week 22: We the Outsiders, Point of View, and Symbolism (Week of 2/5/2016)

English
The week started out with me being absent for two days; I was attending an Expository Reading and Writing Course training which I know my students will love. They did a great job with the guest teachers in my class!
On Monday, the students got a mini lesson on point-of-view. We covered first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. They started off with brief notes, identifying the differences between the different points of view. The students then read a story and used their notes to identify the point of view in which it was told. Once they identified the point of view, they read the same story told from the two other points of view and identified it for each, This was all done in preparation for Friday's first Book Club meeting; more on that later in the blog.

Tuesday was a fusion of the Preamble to the US Constitution and "The Outsiders". Students first read the Preamble and discussed it's vocabulary to find the true meaning and purpose behind it. They then chose a partner or worked alone to create a Preamble from the point-of-view of either the greasers or the Socs from the novel. This is always a fun activity because the students have a good time getting into the heads of the characters in the book and identifying their motives as characters. I always like to fuse a little history into my English class when I'm able to and this is a perfect fit!

Jumping all the way to Friday, we had our first Book Club meeting for our third quarter Independent Book Projects. I'm really impressed with how all of the groups did! I heard a lot of great discussion about point-of-view and how it affects the story. Students dove into the type of PoV the story is told in, why it matters that this narrator is telling it and not another, and what insights we gain into the world of the book (the setting) based on who is telling the story. Mr. Townsend joined us fifth period and was impressed with the conversations he heard in the room around him as well as at the groups he joined. Thanks for jumping in, Mr. T!

AVID
This week in AVID started with taking symbolism to the next level. I had students choose a partner and then research a well-known symbol, turning it into a poster to present to the class. The students needed to pick a symbol, identify its literal meaning (what are we really looking at?) and its figurative meaning (what meaning have we, as people, attached to this shape?). We're not quite done with the posters yet, so we'll be revisiting them next week.

(left) Literally, we're looking at a white and gray apple with a bite out of it. Figuratively, it represents the Apple company.

On Tuesday, my students jumped into an article that talked about how most students need more than four years of college in order to graduate. This was an important article because the majority of students these days take more than four years to graduate due to a variety of different reasons. My students enjoyed this eye-opening article and the reasons why students may take longer to graduate. I even shared my college experience, which was seven years in the making. They were very interested in my story, switching from being a radio-TV-film major, to English, then, finally, to Child and Adolescent Development. We also talked about how it may be a good idea to get your gen ed (general education) units out of the way through a junior college before transferring to a four-year university; it's the same education, just more or less expensive depending on where you go.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What did you learn at the Keith Hawkins assembly?
-How did your book club meeting go on Friday? What did you like about the conversation and process?
-How does the point of view of a story affect it? How would "The Three Little Pigs" be different if the big, bad wolf told the story?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin