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

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