Friday, November 18, 2016

Week 11: Character Relationships and Thanksgiving (week of 11/18/16)

This week was similar to last week. We worked on our Independent Book Projects a bit in class. We studied a new list of vocabulary words in "The Outsiders" (complete with Quizlet Live, Kahoot, and a quiz). We also studied character relationships within "The Outsiders".

I want my students to look at how each character is related to the others in the group. Are they related by blood or are they friends? Do they have a stronger connection, things in common? What pulled these characters together and what keeps them together? Who's most likely to desert the group? Why? These are all questions we pondered as we worked on our "Character Relationships" handout. As a class, we discussed their relationships and discovered that the Curtis brothers (Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Darry) are the family at the core of the larger family, the greasers. The Curtis brothers are related by blood while the rest of the gang is considered family, but aren't blood-related. We also talked about the idea of fitting in when answering the question, "who is most likely to desert or leave the group?" There were many different, great answers. I love how my classes are looking deeper into these characters to find out what makes them tick. It's so easy with these books because there's an instant connection to the characters. Everyone immediately falls in love with these characters and it's inspiring to see my students so excited to talk about and read this book.

Lastly, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving break. I'm truly thankful to work in such an amazing community with the best kids on the planet. I love what I'm doing and people like you only make it easier. Thank you for being a part of this journey and affording me the opportunity to do what I love.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What is your Independent Book Project goal for over Thanksgiving break? How will your efforts over Thanksgiving break affect your overall 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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Week 10: Growing Our Vocabulary and Understanding the Outsiders (week of 11/11/16)

Another short week, but we got a lot done. Monday started with more infographic building. Here at the beginning of the project, figuring out how to work Piktochart can be frustrating for some students. It's a platform that's new to most of my students and some of the tools are a bit confusing. I'm also stepping back and not teaching a thing about the platform itself, which is insanely frustrating for some students (but there's a menthod to my madness). I started the week with the addage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." I'm teaching my students to fish by allowing them the freedom to explore the platform with my support. A lot of what I do in my classroom can be frustrating because I'm not just handing the "fish" (answers) over. Instead, I'm giving my students the fishing pole and tacklebox and sitting with them on the shore. Truthfully, this little bit of frustration will lead them to a world of disovery. It'll help them think more critically and identify how to get to the answer they're seeking. I'm impressed by the work my students have already done and look forward to their final projects.

Tuesday through Thursday, we tackled two activities at once: vocabulary and the "Outsiders" characer grid. I'll talk about the grid first. Basically, I list four chracters on each side of the grid (eight total) and provide space for students to identify physical traits, character traits, and whether the character is static or dynamic. In the past, we've spent the first week of "The Outsiders" reading and rereading chapters one and two, digging for physical and character traits and noting the page numbers where we found our evidence. Students were responsible for all eight characters. Those who worked hard in class got it done, stress free. Those who didn't work as hard as they could have, or subsequently lost their grid, had a lot of work on their hands near the end of the book when the assignment was due, causing stress panicked work. Now, I'm doing things a bit differently due to an ephiphany I had at an AVID teacher training I recently went to.

Tuesday, I assigned a character based on the students' number groups (eight characters and eight groups, how serendipitous!). Students were then given time to comb through chapters one and two on their own to identify physical and character traits, this time focussing on one character. The next day, I gave students a few more minutes to get their thoughts together and finalize their evidence. I then got them into conversations in their number groups, explaining the character traits they identified for their like-character as well as the quotes that gave them that idea. What's fun about this book, and literature in general, is that students can be reading the exact same book but they see the characters differently. They see their traits differently and are able to support themselves. As long as they have their support, they're right (for the most part). The reason I still love teaching "The Outsiders" (especially after five years, reading it upwards of 30 times) is that my students change the way I see the story and its characters. The power of conversation is out in full force when we study this book. I love the connection my students make with these characters; I love how they illuminate different aspects of the characters through their individual study.

Thursday, we ended our study of the characters of "The Outsiders" by leaving our number groups behind and turning to our letter groups. I have four letter groups with eight students apiece. In their groups, students helped each other fill out their character grid with traits and page numbers. I'm really imporessed by the academic and scholarly conversations I heard on Thursday. I heard students questioning each other, "Where did you get that trait? Why do you think that?", "Can you elaborate on your trait for me?", "Couldn't you also see the character this way?". Each class had a hole somewhere in one of the groups, so I got to jump in and share a character with at least one group. I haven't asked for student feedback yet, but I really feel like this version of the character grid was much more successful than in years past.
Finally, with "The Outsiders", we began our first true delve into a vocabulary study. Each week, students will get two chapters of the book and ten words from those chapters to study. On Monday, I say the words and have students repeat them so they know how to pronounce them correctly. Students then rate their knowlege of the word on a scale of one to four; one meaning "I've never heard that word" and four meaning "I could teach that word to the class". I also give the students the part of speech and a definition before setting them free to define the words. That's it for day one of vocabulary. I then ask my students to let the words hang out in their head for the next 24 hours. Day two of vocabulary consists of writing "show me you know" sentences from the provided sentence starters. These sentences are exactly what they sound like; I want to see that my students understand the words by completing the sentences correctly. What I don't want to see is the sentence completed with the definition. Any time a sentence is incorrect, I circle the vocab word in that sentence and write "why?". I explained to my students that I'm not seeing specifically why the sentence shows me you know what the word means. Not many students had issues with this part, but it's always good to keep an eye out. Lastly, I ask the students to rate their knowledge of the word after they've completed the handout. It's incredibly important to do the vocab in two parts, in two days. A lot of students like to rush through the vocab to get it done and that's not what I'm asking for. As you're going to hear a lot this year, as will my students, we've got to go slow to go fast. If we want our knowledge to stick, we've got to work with it slowly. Of course, before our Thursday quiz (which will take place on Fridays in five-day weeks), we played Quizlet Live and Kahoot on Wednesday.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How are the characters in "The Outsiders" being effected by their surroundings? Do you think that they're stuck with what they've got or can they get out of their situation?
2. What is your Independent Book Project goal for over Thanksgiving break? How will your efforts over Thanksgiving break affect your overall project?
3. How did the two-day vocabulary process help you understand the vocabulary better? Could you use this process in any other class?

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Week 9: The World Through the Eyes of the Outsiders (week of 11/4/16)

This week, we finally began S.E. Hinton's bestseller, The Outsiders. Monday, we explored infographics a bit more to get familiar with the platform and to complete our research. We also set our first goal for Friday, November 4. This quarter, the Independent Book Project is a little bigger in terms of the product and information required while being smaller and lighter on the reading. Goals are important because they can guide students towards success. I'm also trying to help my students avoid the stress of realizing that the project is due "tomorrow" and they still have nothing done. I want my students to have ownership of their work and goals give them a framework to guide them.The handout provided had four goal check-ins: Friday, November 4, the week of Thanksgiving, Friday, December 2, and Wednesday, December 7. These goals are incredibly important for success in this project. Students should be setting smart goals; in fact, they should be setting SMART goals (see picture). I understand that self-directed, independent book projects can be tough for students, especially this first year where they're gaining more independence, so I'm here for goal setting and some in-class work. However, it is important for students to put in some work at home or after school to ensure that they're meeting their goals in order to find success on this project.

Tuesday, we got to work on out unit folders for "The Outsiders" by taking a file folder and adding clipart or drawings to it. The students get to relax a bit as they work on the "fun" part, but they're actually interacting with different elements of the 1960s with real pictures. They're also, secretly, working on organization because this folder will keep their work for the unit in one place. They'll be able to access their folder at school in class as well as before/after school. We'll be working on the unit assignments (in the folder) mostly in class, so as long as students are using their time wisely they'll be absolutely fine.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent listening to the audio of the book. I got to share my love for the book a little on Wednesday and then we dove right in. Already, my students this year are proving why this book continues to be relevant in the middle school classroom. Thursday, my students came running in asking, "Are we reading "The Outsiders" today? All period? YES!!!" Already, they're connecting with the characters and they're starting to look at our essential questions. The guiding question for this unit is "How are people affected by their surroundings?" We also started talking about the idea of fitting in, being excluded, and who has it easier, the rich or the poor? Wednesday and Thursday were spent focussing on the first two chapters of the book. We simply just read the chapters in order to envelop ourselves in setting and characters without specifically focusing on them. Next week, we'll dig back into the chapters to fully focus on the setting as well as the characters and their traits. Eventually, our study will develop into a character development essay over the course of the novel. The students will moan and groan because its writing and work, but they like this essay because their connection to the characters makes it easier, or at the very least less painful.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. Who is your favorite character from "The Outsiders" so far? What makes them your favorite?
2. What is your Independent Book Project goal for over Thanksgiving break? How will your efforts over Thanksgiving break affect your overall project?
3. Have some of the characters in "The Outsiders" been affected by their surroundings? How?

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, November 1, 2016

Week 8: Red Ribbon Week/ The Teenage Brain, 1960s Pop Culture Phenomenon (week of 10/28/16)

This week was Red Ribbon Week, and oh what a week it was! Each day, every student on campus had the opportunity to dress up for a spirit day and compete as a homebase. Themes included twin day, "team up" against drugs (sports day), crazy sock day (in conjunction with the Socktober organization), green and gold/Lancer pride day, and red day. There was a door decorating contest and plenty of on-campus lunchtime activities to keep the students having fun while learning how to make good choices in regards to drugs and alcohol. You may have heard about our impactful guest speaker, nurse Linda Dutil, and her scary (and gross) presentation. What I appreciated (and the students, subliminally, did, too) was that her presentation was less a lecture and more a "here are the consequences of drug and alcohol use". The teenage brain is being rewired during puberty and a constant thought, whether subliminally or stated outright, is "it won't happen to me". A lot of seemingly stupid decisions happen during puberty because the part of the brain that really thinks about consequences isn't quite formed yet. Nurse Dutil's presentation showed the effects in living color instead of talking about them in theoretics. Sure the kids were grossed out, but the message was loud and clear and I'm certain it sank in.

 You may have also heard about the "drunk goggles" activity hosted by Friday Night Live (though I'm hoping that they were referred to in the correct manner as "fatal vision goggles"). The fatal vision goggles mimic the effects of various levels of alcohol and drug use on one's vision. Friday Night Live, the club I'm the advisor for, hosted a series of activities in the gym that show the real-world effects of drugs and alcohol on one's perceptive abilities. With the fatal vision goggles on, students were asked to complete tasks like walking a straight line, throwing a basketball into a basket, jumping rope and giving a high five, and drawing on a paper jack-o-lantern to put in the drug-free pumpkin patch. This is always a popular event because it gets the students interacting with these effects without having to ingest any illegal substances. I hope everyone got the intended message behind the activities: it may feel crazy when you're under the influence, but life is much tougher and less safe under the influence and you can't take the goggles off (the effects are much, much longer lasting).


Specifically in English class, we took a closer look at infographics, both professional and from my Quarter 2 IBP last year. Students really looked at the format of each infographic, picked their favorite, and then really dug into what worked for them. Doing this activity got them thinking about what kinds of information are on the infographics as well as how much of an expert they really need to become in order to successfully complete this project. Students also had a chance to do more research and get their sources using EasyBib. This process should help each student find success in the next couple of weeks as they take control of their research.

We also had a "quick and easy" presentation this week. As a means of presenting the background information on "The Outsiders", each student group was given a facet of the 1960s to research. Working as a group, students compiled the information into a Google Slideshow and practiced "Mr. Laffin's Slideshow Presentation Guidelines" before presenting back to the class. Students then took notes on every presentation and turned them in for credit. These presentations aren't graded on a  rubric and are meant to be practice for the students; they're also not given a ton of prep time in an effort to avoid dawdling and messing around. Everyone did a great job and we're ready to move on to "The Outsiders"!

Lastly, all students will be provided with a copy of "The Outsiders" for in-class use. Students are not required to have their own, purchased copy but may want one for note-taking and rereading at home (a lot of students find that this is one of their favorite books). The copy that matches the version we're using in class can be purchased here (and is pictured on the left).

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What was the most memorable part of Red Ribbon Week? What made it memorable?
2. What effects do drugs and alcohol have on your body?
3. Have you found all of your sources for the Independent Book Project? What work can be done now so the work doesn't pile up before the project is due?

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