Monday, May 30, 2016

Week 37: Symbolism in "The Giver" (week of 5/27/16)

English
We're at the point in the year where time is absolutely flying! We have eight school days left and a lot to cover. These next eight days will be going at lightening speed.

Next week, we'll be presenting our interviews that we've been working on all quarter. Students are going to be getting up in front of the class and "interviewing" for a job in the Community that "The Giver" is set in, only they'll be interviewing as the person whose biography they read. This presentation is our quickest; student realistically shouldn't be in front for the class for more than four or five minutes. It's one of the most challenging presentations because students have to synthesize their real-life person and the jobs in "The Giver" to find the best fit and, hopefully, land the job. Some students noted that none of the jobs I gave them fit their person. In those cases, I asked students to think a little deeper and choose the best fit. This project wasn't heavy on the writing; students only needed to complete their biography prep sheet (provided before Spring Break), job interview prep sheet (the actual questions they'll be answering), and a works cited/bibliography page. I removed the resume portion of the project, as we're short on time.

In addition to the job interviews, we're flying through "The Giver" and our character/symbolism study. This past week we took a look a Jonas' ability to see color (a gift no one else in the community has) and the eating of the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Every year, this is a powerful lesson as we compare Adam and Eve's gaining of knowledge by eating the fruit to what Jonas is going through as he approaches the Ceremony of 12 and his job. Please rest assured that I am merely teaching the symbolism between the two stories and am focussing on them from a literary standpoint. The religion, god, and/or theology aren't being taught at all; the stories are simply a springboard for making inferences.

Finally, my goal is to watch the movie version of "The Giver" Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week of the year. I'll be sending a permission slip home for the movie, as it's rated PG-13. You can visit IMDB.com for a full synopsis and parent guide. Any student who does not turn in a permission slip for any reason will be completing an alternate activity in an alternate location.

AVID

We're working hard in AVID to get our websites done. Click the picture above to be taken to our page. The pages that are currently published will open when clicked on; those who aren't done yet won't open. We're aiming to have all sites online by Friday.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-Practice the job interview process with your son/daughter. Ask the questions and critique their answers, please.
-Is there anything that makes Jonas the typical protagonist in a dystopian novel? Why does this make him typical?
-What are you looking forward to this summer?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Week 36: SBAC Testing and the 4th Quarter Independent Book Project (week of 5/20/16)

English
This week in English and Math, students took the SBAC test. State testing has been one of the most stressful weeks for students in my young career, and even before when I took the CTBS version as a student. For most students, it's all over now. My students buckled down and put their noses to the grindstone to get through the testing in my class. Everyone used the time given to them and answered the questions as best they could. I'm very proud of my students for how they handled the testing this week. If any student didn't finish the test, makeups will be held on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. The good thing about SBAC testing is that it's done when the student finishes, not when the in-class testing window closes. Everyone will have the opportunity to finish their test with as much time as they need.

Students who finished their tests before the window closed received the Job Interview Prep Sheet (not pictured) for their fourth, and final, Independent Book Project. This handout is available on my website, as is the Guidelines Sheet that many students seem to have misplaced (as with all handouts in my class this year, I ask that my students hold onto them until the end of the school year just in case). We will be skipping the resume portion of this project due to time constraints.

In order to complete this project correctly, students need to have their person researched completely. We started the quarter by picking out a biography (which I stressed needed to be short and succinct so students weren't bogged down with the reading). When students finished, they were instructed to move into individual research using the method they were most comfortable with (more books, the ETC Portal/GALE database, documentaries, etc.). The students, having a full understanding of the person they read about, then took the IBP Guidelines sheet and chose a job from the Community in the Giver for their person to apply for; the list is on the back of the Guidelines sheet. They're applying for a job from the Community in The Giver as the person they read about in their biography. This project pairs their nonfiction reading with the fiction novel we're reading. The Job Interview Prep Sheet presents the students with the five interview questions they'll be asked June 1-4, 2016. Students need to answer in the present as if they are the person they read about (whether that person is alive or dead, they're speaking in present tense). I also provided hints and tips on how to answer those questions (on the same handout). Please go over the answers with your son or daughter and, if possible, hold some practice mock interviews at home. Students will not be able to use their answer scripts when they interview.

Lastly on the interview, there is an extra credit opportunity (the rubric is available on my website). For four points of extra credit, students can dress to impress for their interview. I'm not asking my students to dress up as their person, I'm asking students to dress professionally. I'm bringing the point up for two reasons: dressing up as the person will be distracting from the interview as a whole and I want to avoid silliness/distractions. Second, I've had dress clothing donated to my classroom for this project. If your son or daughter doesn't have professional clothing, I do not want you to go out and buy it just for this project. I have the clothes and I am more than happy to provide them for the day of your son/daughter's interview. Everyone now has the opportunity to earn the four points of extra credit for dressing up. Note: the "school appropriate clothing" point value is incorrect on the rubric. Coming to school in school dress code is worth three points, not two as specified on the rubric.

AVID

It was a quick week in AVID this week due to the testing block schedule. On Monday, we took our knowledge of Poe's works (The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Cask of Amontillado) and completed a triple Venn diagram, comparing and contrasting all three stories at once. I had students start by working independently for a couple minutes. Then, I had each student give one of their answers to the class (I wrote their answers on the whiteboard) before they were allowed to get into groups to complete the Venn diagram. As they worked in their small groups, I walked around and talked to the students to hear their answers. Every group came up with at least one answer I really liked, so I encouraged the students to write their own answers on the board for the rest of the class. I am, as always, incredibly impressed with how deeply my students thought about each of these stories. They looked at the big, obvious details as well as the minute, seemingly unimportant details.


On Friday, we had an extra long class period. Tuesday-Friday, all classes were one hour and forty-eight minutes long. As you know by now, Fridays are "Fun Fridays" in AVID. I really had my work cut out for me this week. Usually, we play a couple rounds of silent ball or "psst psst" before moving into Pictionary or Guesstures, but I had almost twice the time to fill. What were we going to do for almost two hours!? I didn't want to do the same-old same-old for our only long Fun Friday, so I got to thinking. On Thursday, the idea hit me: we'd do a marathon of teambuilding exercises from the WEB program. These exercises are fillers; that is, they're not something the WEB Leaders will see on Spring Play Day or in their Orientation Trainings (or even Orientation). I got to work and put together six activities we'd do together: Six Letters, Tear it Up, Quick Quiz, Do What I Do/ Do What I Did, Matchface, and Robot Commander. Ms. Ahearn and Ms. Adler joined in on the fun, too! The students had a lot of fun completing these activities and learning the real lesson behind it. Ask your son or daughter what we did and what we learned. I presented the activities to my class, telling them that they're now AVID leaders for next year's seventh graders. Some of my AVID students will be moving on to the Leadership class next year and others are participating in the WEB program, but all will be leaders on campus in some way. We had a lot of fun this week!



Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-Practice the job interview process with your son/daughter. Ask the questions and critique their answers, please.
-What problems do you already see arising in "The Giver"?
-Look back to the beginning of the school year: how have things changed for you? What's been your biggest accomplishment this year?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Week 35: The Giver, Open House, and SBAC Testing (week of 5/13/16)

English
After a week of learning about dystopian literature, we began Lois Lowry's "The Giver". This week, we tackled chapters 1-4 as we took a look at the story elements we know so well at this point: plot and characterization. While we're only in the "exposition" of the story at this point, the students were able to identify the characters and their physical and character traits. Students were also able to take the given information and make inferences on to when and where the story takes place. We also talked about society in general with our "pre-reading bias/anticipation guide", answering "yes", "no", or "I don't know" to questions like, "society has my best interests in mind when it makes me do things (e.g. like school)" and "if everyone followed the rules in place, we could rid society of some of its problems". Obviously, some key words in each of those statements could make students' answers vary quite a bit. Students picked up on these words and crafted their argument around the words they chose to focus on. We also studied our first chunk of vocabulary (there will be three), played Quizlet Live and Kahoot, and finished the week with a quiz that just so happened to have five bonus points attached to it. I noticed that the scores were very high on the quizzes this week overall, whether it's due to individual student study on my Quizlet notecards set or the games, the students worked very hard and earned those bonus points!

Next week, curriculum and "The Giver" will be put on hold as we take the annual SBAC test. If your student has their own headphones or earbuds, they're encouraged to bring them so that they can listen to the audio portions comfortably. If they don't have earphones or ear buds, LAMS just purchased some brand-spanking new headphones for the test and they will be available for use. I know that my students will do their best next week. I also know that this is a time of high anxiety for some, so please communicate to your son or daughter that all anyone expects them to do is their best. Slow down, breathe, relax, read critically and multiple times, and be present in the moment for the test. If your son or daughter does that, they'll do just fine. Here are some tips to help your son or daughter find success in next week's testing:

  • Encourage your child to do well but don't pressure him/her. You may stress him/her out. It is important for your child to stay relaxed for the test.
  • Keep a positive attitude about tests.
  • Make sure that your child gets enough sleep on the night before the test.
  • Ensure that your child eats a healthy breakfast and avoid heavy foods that may make him/her groggy and avoid high sugar foods that may make him/her hyper.
  • Make sure that your child gets up early enough so that he/she will be on time to school.
  • Talking about the test with your child can relieve stress about test taking.

Finally, THANK YOU to everyone who came to Open House on Thursday. I really enjoy meeting all of you and having a quick chat. I hope you were able to check out your son or daughter's hard work over the past year, and hopefully you were able to catch a quick chat with me (sorry about the line at one point). I appreciate you taking the time to be a part of your son or daughter's education and campus. Whether it's going to Open House, reading the blog, or it's a quick email here and there, it's making all the difference in your child's education. THANK YOU!!!

AVID
This week, we got a chance to see the performed version of "The Cask of Amontillado" by the brilliant company, PoeMovies (they did the quintessential version of "The Raven", pushing Vincent Price's version to #2 after many years of my seeing it as #1). After we watched it, we dove into comprehension questions that spoke about the work's true meaning, hyperbole (exaggeration), symbolism, verbal irony, and foreshadowing. On Thursday, the students had an amazing conversation about these questions and really got to the heart of the piece. Our understanding of the story as a whole is getting much better and we'll be moving on to the final story very soon. Next week, we'll be completing a triple-Venn diagram, looking at the similarities and differences between "The Raven", "The Tell-Tale Heart", and "The Cask of Amontillado".


Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What elements of the Community in "The Giver" make the society dystopian?
-Think about the jobs we've read about so far in "The Giver", which one(s) would be good for the person whose biography you're reading? Why?
-We have about one month left of school, how can you ensure you end strong?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Week 34: Dude. Be Nice Week, Quizlet Live, and THANK YOU!!! (week of 5/6/16)

English
Not only was this week Teacher Appreciation Week, it was Dude. Be Nice week here at Laguna. The spirit of positivity and community spread all over campus this week. Students participated in spreading kindness through a high-five challenge, by thanking our custodial and office staff as well as the bus drivers, and by celebrating Mrs. Norlock (8th grade PE), the first-ever recipient of the "Dude. Be Nice" award. The students really made Laguna a better place to be this week through their positivity. It was fun to hear "dude, be nice" as I walked through the halls. On a similar note of positivity, THANK YOU for your notes and gifts this week. I am so lucky to work in such a caring, amazing community and I am reminded of my luck each and every day. Thank you for sending your amazing young people to me. When people ask me what I do for a living, scrunching their face and asking "why" when they hear I teach middle school, I tell them I do it because these kids are incredible. Their spirit is inspiring, their knowledge amazes me each day, their humanity and kindness makes my job less a job and more a passion. If I have a crazy, fun, new idea, I know that I'll get to try it out with a willing audience. Thank you for all that you do to make my job so rewarding!

We spent Monday and part of Tuesday finishing our dystopian literature notes. Everyone worked really hard to get their notes completed at their own pace. Some students are already seeing the cause and effect between the beginning of a utopian society (or what causes groups of people to split off and form their own community) as well as the cause and effect of the eventual failure of such communities. Students had an open-note quiz on Tuesday on these very notes. We also started building our dystopian literature unit folders on Wednesday. I found much success with the folders for the Tap versus Bottled Water- Argumentative Writing Unit so I figured we'd give it another go, this time earlier in the unit. We had fun decorating our folders wit different graphics, shapes, and symbols. I saw a lot of great creativity from everyone; be sure and check them out at Open House!

Speaking of Open House, this Thursday, May 12, 2016, Laguna is hosting an Open House from 6:30pm-8:00pm. Please plan on stopping by to visit your son/daughter's classes to see their amazing work from throughout the school year. On display in my classroom will be the following: bullying presentations, bullying informational/expository essay, 1960s presentation, 1960s historical narrative, "The Outsiders" character development essay, 2nd quarter Independent Book Project Infographic, 3rd quarter Independent Book Project group travelogue, Tap versus Bottled Water argumentative essay (letter) and unit folder, and the "Shut Down Your Screen Week" argumentative essay. I will also be on hand to chat and say hi. Please note that Open House is not a conference period. Please set up a meeting to talk specifics about your son/daughter.

We ended our week by playing a new vocabulary game that Mrs. Jones, 8th grade Science, told me about. It's called Quizlet Live (Quizlet is a great website for studying vocabulary and making online flashcards). Similar to Kahoot, Quizlet Live is an action-packed, fast-paced game but this one puts students into teams of three or four. Then, each student in the team gets the same definition and it's a race to find who has the right vocabulary word (each student in the team has four vocabulary words that are different from their teammates' list; only one person has the correct word). It's an exciting race to the finish as students discuss words and definitions in an attempt to beat the other teams to the finish line. I like this game because it's quick so we can get four or five rounds in and students can see the words and definitions multiple times. The students like it because they get to move every round and they love the competitive aspect. Mrs. Mooney even joined us because she heard how much fun we were having!


AVID
In AVID this week, we took a trip to Medieval Italy by reading Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado". The students loved the twists and turns the story took, especially as we read and reread the story, catching new things each time. This week, we focused on vocabulary because it's an integral part in understanding the story, especially those that were written long ago. We also got a chance to play Quizlet Live and Kahoot with our vocabulary and the students had a lot of fun learning the vocabulary in an exciting way. We finished our week by playing Guesstures, a charades-like game where each person's goal is to act our four different things before the cards they're written on drop out of sight. Our game ended in a tie between the teams, much to the dismay of the students (trust me, it was a tight game but was also a true tie). Stay tuned for next week's champions!


Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-How do the governments/powers-in-control in dystopian fiction keep the societies under control?
-Why are utopia started in the first place? What makes a utopia turn into a dystopia?
-Think about the person you're reading about for your biography: what kind of a society would be a utopia for them? How would they keep that society perfect?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin