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