Saturday, September 23, 2017

Week 5: Progress Reports, Tone and Purpose, and Moving on from Characterization (week of 9/22/2017)

...and just like that, it's progress report time. I was going to spend a little more time talking about progress reports but the Lancer Lines covered most of what I was going to say this week. I'll talk specifically about my class in relation to progress reports and then I'll move on to this week's book club focus.

I can't believe we're already heading into our sixth week. Time has a tendency to fly in San Luis Obispo and this year is no different. To echo what Mr. Calandro said in the Lancer Lines, progress reports are being mailed out next week and you should receive them Thursday or Friday. For those of you checking PowerSchool regularly, the grades shouldn't be a surprise. If you haven't had a chance to check PowerSchool, I'd suggest setting aside five minutes each week to log in and check progress. Progress reports and quarter/semester grades tend to be a surprise for some students and parents alike. The solution to that issue is to check PowerSchool on a regular basis. Most of the teachers in middle school, myself included, don't send home daily or weekly progress reports. We communicate successes and failures using PowerSchool and that tends to be about it. Unfortunately for many classes, quarter and semester grades mark the end of the "turn in" period for student work. Specifically, in my class, I don't accept any work that was assigned in quarter one past the end of quarter one (October 20 this year). I assign the homework to check PowerSchool weekly for my students but they sometimes forget to check. Again, to make sure there are no surprises when it's too late, I'd suggest setting time aside to check PowerSchool with or without your son or daughter.

As a reminder, any zeros in the gradebook right now can still be made up for late credit. The final due date for this quarter is October 20, 2017. Late credit is 10% off of what the student earns on the assignment. If you notice a zero online, please talk to your son or daughter and form a plan to remedy it.

This week, we wrapped up our study of the elements of characterization. We'll continue looking at characters in the stories we read throughout the year, but the "intro to characterization" is over for the most part. We practiced identifying character traits using Pixar's "La Luna". We also practiced our skills by looking at written examples of characterization, using our knowledge of characterization to assign character traits and note where those inferences came from. Students took their characterization quiz on Thursday and I was thrilled with how well they did. Because this mini-unit is 21 terms long (not including identification questions), I expected the scores to be a lot lower and figured we'd use this as a learning tool to guide our learning in the upcoming weeks, eventually retaking the quiz. Characterization is tough and identifying it can be tricky. My students this year are doing an amazing job with characterization so far! The average score for all 140 of my students was 24.81/25. The highest score was 30/25 and a solid number of students got the 5 extra credit points. Well done to everyone for studying hard and acing the quiz!

For books clubs this week we focused in on the author's tone and purpose for writing. An author's tone is their overall attitude towards the subject they're writing about. Tone can be neutral, positive, or negative. When students identify a tone as positive or negative, I ask them to assign a specific quality to the story. For example, calling Suzanne Collins' tone in "The Hunger Games" 'negative' wouldn't be enough. Students would have to take it a step further and name the specific negative tone in the work; in this case, the tone would be dark, mysterious, suspenseful, and sometimes horrifying. An author's purpose is a bit easier. There are three purposes we'll be identifying this year: to persuade, to inform, or to entertain. In the case of book clubs this week, the purpose for each and every book was first to entertain and second to inform or persuade (the students could identify this specifically based on their individual story). I didn't mention this to the students because I wanted them to use their skills to identify the primary purpose and the secondary purpose. From what I heard in book clubs yesterday, it sounds like everyone did a great job looking at the details in their book to identify tone and purpose.

Next week's book club focus is the elements of the story (the plot). We'll be moving on to theme as our in-class focus next week, which is a little tougher. The final book club paragraph and meeting will focus on theme so we'll spend some time really learning theme in a fun way next week.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How are your grades for this progress report? Are they what you suspected? Why or why not?
2. What is one area you'd like to improve in over the next six weeks of school? How are you going to make that improvement?
3. How can you identify tone and purpose in a piece of writing? Is there every only one tone/purpose in a piece of writing? Why or why not?

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, September 16, 2017

Week 4: Character Study, Grades in the Gradebook, and Late Work(week of 9/15/2017)

We've got a lot to talk about this week (mostly tips and tricks as we head into the meat of the quarter and beyond). Things have been going great in G-6 so far!!!

I'll start by talking a bit about Remind and Google Classroom. Regarding Remind, all students are required to join my Remind classes via their cell phone OR school-issued email. Some students noted that they were confused about not receiving credit even though you, their parent/guardian, joined. I, of course, encourage you to be a part of my Remind classes and welcome you to them. However, I need ALL students to be enrolled either via email or cell phone. If their score is a zero on PowerSchool, it's either because they haven't joined yet or the name they joined with doesn't match my records (thus, I can't give credit until I know who the student is). If your son or daughter has a zero online, please help them get enrolled in my Remind class by heading to the end of this blog for further instruction.

Regarding Google Classroom, I spoke with our IT department and they've noted no issues in joining Google Classroom as a parent. We, as a district, currently don't have any blocks on parents joining Google Classroom so you should have no issue joining my classes. An amazing parent shared some directions for joining she found online. Please consider taking a look there if you're still having issues joining. The codes I emailed out were directly copied from Google Classroom so they shouldn't be incorrect. I'm sorry for any inconvenience this process has caused. If you're still having issues joining after this point, I'm sorry to say that there's nothing I can do. I'm happy to assist you in any way possible but I'm not sure what more we could be doing. Please feel free to contact me for further support.

Next, I want to talk about grades. Don't freak out, this is actually a good thing. If you've logged into PowerSchool you may have been surprised by what you saw. Most students are above 100% in my class thanks to the rubrics I grade with (every rubric I use is graded "At standard" online with "Above standard" being extra credit). Some students, however, have less-than-stellar grades. Not to worry, there's an explanation for this (and there's still time to change those grades). At this point in the school year, most (if not all) classes have very few assignments in the gradebook. Any zeros or less-than-great work take a much larger toll on the overall grade due to that lack of points. For example, if a teacher only has ten points in their gradebook and a student turns in one five-point assignment (and receives full credit) and fails to turn in the other five-point assignment, their overall grade in that class is 50%, or an F. As the quarter and semester roll on, it will all even out. In my class specifically, students can make up assignments for only a 10% deduction on what they earned. All assignments assigned in first quarter can be made up for this credit until the end of the quarter (October 20, 2017). Long story short, if you notice a zero online, encourage your son or daughter to get it taken care of sooner than later and all will be back to normal on PowerSchool.

Speaking of grades, it's time to talk about my late-work policy. I mentioned it briefly at Back-to-School night and I'd like to clarify it now. You can visit this policy, and my other grading policies, at my website by clicking on "Grading Policies". At its most basic, any zero online represents an assignment I don't have whether it's late or a student was absent. The assignment will remain a zero until the assignment has been turned in (absent students have an extension and will receive full credit until that extension is up). Assignments turned in without a name are counted as late. Any assignment assigned this quarter can be made up until the end of the quarter (October 20). After that date, the zero will remain. So far, my students have been doing well with taking responsibility for their late assignments. They've kept on me to get the grades online as soon as possible, which is a goal of mine this year. Late assignments are graded when I can get to them. My main focus is grading the current assignment and focusing on getting materials ready for the next day/week. I'm well aware that I take a bit longer to grade late work so I'm diligently working on holding myself accountable to get grades in sooner than later. If a zero is sitting online longer than is comfortable, feel free to shoot me an email inquiring about it and I'll remedy the problem. Thank you in advance for your support and understanding.
Lastly, we shifted our focus from the general plot of a story to a laser focus on characterization. We learned how writers craft real and memorable characters and looked at character traits. We identified character traits in both "For the Birds" and "La Luna", making inferences about these characters and supporting them with detail from the films. My classes are off to a great start with characterization and I know they'll continue to excel this year!

On Friday we had our second book club. Like last week, it was one for the books (unintentional pun, for the win) and I spent the day impressed by each and every one of my classes.
Here's what a typical book club day looks like in G-6:
1. Students walk in. I brief them on the day.
2. Students get into book clubs, grabbing their Chromebooks and sharing their PrepParagraph with their group.
3. Students then continue the conversation using the "Conversation Cues" handout and the focus questions I have projected on the screen in front of class.
4. When I've heard a group having a prolonged, good conversation, the group earns their group notes for the week.
5. Groups work together to complete their notes on the day's conversation. These notes will be used to help the group build their final project, a book talk.
6. Once everyone in the small group is done with their notes, students get an individual reflection sheet for the day. This sheet is their exit ticket; students cannot leave class until they have individually completed it. If students are late to their next class, it's on them. Students are generally late because they have elected to not use their time wisely earlier in the period, delaying the overall process.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What is the STEAL method? How does this method create good characters?
2. What is your favorite character from a book? What is it you like about them so much? What did the author do to make this character your favorite?
3. How are your grades looking? What can you do to make improvements, if needed? How can you maintain these grades (if no improvement is necessary)?

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, September 9, 2017

Week 3: Diving into Our Book Clubs (week of 9/8/2017)

It may have been a short week but it sure was busy! We continued our study of the elements of plot, looked at point of view, and had our very first book club meeting.

After completing our notes on plot (and watching Pixar's "Presto" a few more times), we were able to really solidify our knowledge. Students in my class take PDP Cornell notes, which is a spin on the tried-and-true Cornell notetaking system. PDP means "pre, during, post"; the process begins with a prediction/inference before students get the knowledge. It continues with the during the process, which is the note-taking. We wrap it all up in the post phase by summarizing our notes. Students shared their summaries with their neighbors and then the class so everyone could hear a different summary of the same information. Next week I'll be collecting the notes for credit, but not before the quiz (and, of course, Quizlet Live and Kahoot, our study games).

We also had our first book club meeting this week and our topic of focus was point of view and setting. We started the week with a lesson on the two terms, practiced identifying point of view Wednesday and Thursday (chock full of conversation), and shared our knowledge in a book club on Friday. The three points of view we're focusing on in class are first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. Students then took their in-class knowledge and put it to the test, applying it to the novel they're reading for book club. I heard a lot of AMAZING conversations today in class, easily the most impressive I've heard in the two years I've hosted book clubs. Well done!
With book clubs tends to come a little frustration. As I talked about last week, students got to choose their own groups AND their own books. The frustration here is that the popular books tend to get checked out long before we visit the library. While Mrs. Schwoerer does have the ability to contact the other libraries in the school district and have the books shipped to us, there's often not enough books in the district or the books don't get here in time. On Tuesday, I had my students discuss their ¨game plan¨ of getting the book with their group. The other options I provided were my in-class library, the English department's ¨Secret Stash¨ of books (multiple copies that we use to teach but aren't using this year), the local SLO County libraries, the internet (searching for the PDF version of the book), and, lastly, purchasing the book from a retailer or digitally on the Nook, Kindle, or iPhone/iPad. We'll be continuing with book clubs for the next four weeks and then repeating the project (with a twist) in the third quarter.

HereĊ› what a typical week looks like in book clubs:
Monday: lesson on the week's focus. PrepParagraph assigned on Google Classroom; prompt is handed out in class as a hard copy with a rubric; the prompt is on Google Classroom as well. Students should begin reading the next fifth of their book club book; think about this week's focus and what it looks like in your book.
Tuesday-Thursday: in-class practice with the focus topic. Students should continue reading their book club book while thinking about the week's topic; students should consider beginning their paragraph on Google Classroom.
Friday: PrepParagraph due by 8:15am on Google Classroom, no exceptions*. Book club meeting in class discussing the week's topic and how it pertains to the book club book students are reading in their small group.
*Please note that the library at LAMS and my classroom are available for student use should they not have a computer or internet at home or need a quiet place to work or need support.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How did your first book club meeting go? What can you do to ensure that it goes as well next week (or better if your group needs improvement)?
2. How are you liking your book club book so far? What is the setting of the story? What is the point of view? Why does this point of view matter to the overall story?
3. What tools are available on campus to help ensure that you're successful in school? What can you do to ensure that you're successful?

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, September 1, 2017

Week 2: Getting into the Swing of Things! (week of 9/1/2017)

This week was a busy "first" official week of school. Last week, we focused on classroom procedures and the syllabus. This week, we moved onto curriculum. It's been a great, and quick, week!

On Monday, I challenged my students to find their seats using the coordinate plane (the letters and numbers hanging from my ceiling) for the last time. Students will be in the assigned seats for the next five weeks. I did my best to honor not only IEPs and 504s, but also tried to honor student requests. Everyone seems happy so far. My goal for the year is to give everyone a chance to utilize the new standing desks I got this summer. Those who've used them so far really seem to be enjoying them.

This week, we worked on editing marks (as bellwork) and the elements of plot. I begin every day in my class with a quick bellwork that deals with editing marks. I know how tedious learning the editing marks can be, especially if it's a stand-alone lesson, so I'm trying to teach my students daily in a quick and interesting way. The website that has provided the bellwork for me has prompts broken down by month, which is great because the bellwork is relevant to the month we're in. Each sheet has ten mistakes dealing with grammar, spelling, or punctuation. It's great practice and my hope is that these skills transfer to our essays and projects throughout the year.

We also worked on plot this week. Our goal is to discover how the elements of plot (exposition, climax, characters, setting, etc.) work together to create an interesting and memorable story. When I teach plot I like to use Pixar shorts. This week we watched "Presto". As we watched, we identified the elements of plot that we see. Each year my students love this unit, not only because they get to watch multiple Pixar shorts but also because it makes learning plot easier and more enjoyable. As I continue with plot and then move on to characterization and theme I'll continue with the Pixar shorts. In addition, I will introduce picture books to help teach these skills.

We ended our week by hanging out with Mrs. Schwoerer in the library. Each year, she helps introduce the students to our amazing library space through the English classes. It's a great time for our students because they get to meet Mrs. Schwoerer and explore our amazing library. Of course, the students are allowed to check out books and read them in the library but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The library is a collaborative space where students can work on homework, projects, arts and crafts, play board games and computer games, and kick back and relax in a safe space. New this year is the student work space (it'll get a cooler name later). Mrs. Schwoerer has cleared out a bit of space in her "in between" room (storage, mostly) and added collaborative desks, large monitors with Chromebook connections for collaborative work, and rugs to add an air of coziness. It's truly a great space for students who wish to work collaboratively with others but don't want to be "in the thick of it" in the main library. I'm excited to see the students using this space!

Lastly, PowerSchool. I wanted to let you know that I have a page on my website dedicated to decoding the PowerSchool website. It's not the most user-friendly website so I went ahead and created a cheat sheet for you. If you head over to my website and click on the PowerSchool Support tab, you'll see the cheat sheet. Hopefully, it clears things up a bit for you. If there are any other questions that you have, please don't hesitate to ask. There's a lot of information on PowerSchool, it's just not the easiest to find.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What kinds of things can you do in the library? What will you be using the library for this year?
2. What are the elements of plot? How do they work together to create a good story? Do all stories need these elements?
3. What book have you chosen to read for your Independent Book Project? Who is in your group? How can you ensure that everyone, including you, is successful in 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, August 25, 2017

Week 1: Welcome to Laguna Middle School! (week of 8/25/2017)

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog, The Laffin Place (Disney fans will get the last name/Splash Mountain mashup). Every week, I'll be posting class updates, important announcements, tips and tricks, or exciting news. My goal is to publish these blogs every Friday before I go home for the weekend.

This week, we came back to school. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the week, I want to talk about Back to School Night. Thank you all for coming and checking out the campus and your son/daughter's classes. It was a pleasure meeting you all.

One thing we talked about last night is the Remind platform. Remind is a texting platform that allows you and your son/daughter to communicate directly with me in a safe manner. Our phone numbers will never be exchanged. Students are never able to contact each other using Remind, either. And to make it all great, Remind is incredibly easy to join. Everyone has two options to join: through text message or using an email account. If you're joining via text, text the message @laffin# (replace the # with your son/daughter's class period) to the number 81010. You'll receive a few messages to complete the process and then you're enrolled. If you're joining via email, go to remind.com/join and enter the class code @laffin# replacing the # with your son/daughter's class period). From that point, both options enable you to receive the reminders I send home. You'll also be able to text me and receive a response in a timely manner. My Remind office hours are 7:30am-5:00pm daily, Monday-Friday. I am requiring that all of my students join so that they can receive the important texts. I, of course, welcome you to join as well if you haven't yet (regardless of what your son/daughter might say, you're absolutely allowed to join and receive the messages).

I use Remind to send out reminders, as the name suggests. If we are meeting in a different location than we usually do, I send out a reminder the morning of. If there's a big project coming up, I send out reminders, tips, and tricks to help everyone be successful. If there's important campus information I can share, I'll send it out on Remind so everyone is in the loop.

In class this week, we spent time getting to know the campus, the classroom, and our classmates. I challenged my students to find their seats quickly each day and it turned out to be really fun. Using the coordinate plane of numbers and letters hanging from my ceiling, students raced to find the correct seat faster than the other periods. Our quickest time of the week was 22 seconds! I also had my students participate in a "stations" activity. Each student got eight PostIt notes. I showed them eight sentence starters and they finished the thought on the corresponding PostIt. They then got into groups and visited each station, sharing their answers for that station and practicing their conversation skills while getting to know each other. The activity ended with them writing the most important point of their conversation. This, in turn, became a note for me to use to become the best teacher possible this year.

Friday was spent going over the syllabus "speed dating" style (don't worry, the students weren't actually dating). I gave the students a syllabus, arranged them in rows, and gave them a partner. Then, I projected a question for all to see and the partners dove into the syllabus for the answer. Any left-over time was spent getting to know their classmate. After going over the answers as a class, I rotated one of the two lines and repeated the process. It certainly was more fun than me droning on about it!

Next week, I'll have more tips and tricks to help you in figuring out the world of middle school.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. How did middle school compare to what you thought it would be? Was it better or worse? Why?
2. What moment this week made you feel welcomed or less-anxious about middle school?
3. What are you looking forward to the most about this school year? What are your goals?

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, June 9, 2017

Week 32 and 33: The Final Countdown (weeks of 6/2 and 6/9/2017)

With that, my friends, it's time to bid a fond farewell to G-6. I can't believe that the year is already over!!! Here's what we've been up to:

The second to last week of school was jam-packed with poetry. We shared our haikus, acrostic poetry, couplets, and blackout poetry with each other. I am really impressed by the skill my students showed. Poetry is typically a tough unit for students because some don't want to write poetry, some don't understand it, and most are exhausted and done with the year. I can't blame them! However, everyone did a great job buckling down and letting their poetic voices speak. The haikus were very well written and focused on our love of nature. The couplets were about something we enjoy and my students clearly enjoy a lot of different things. The acrostic poetry was "tough" for most students; I, however, suspect it wasn't the concept that was tough but the actual work and thought process. No big deal, we got through it and everyone found their own poetic voice.

We ended the year by writing a poetry book that also gives advice to next year's seventh graders. Each period was responsible for their own version of the advice. Period 1 had to tell next year's students "How to Survive Mr. Laffin's Class". Period 2 tackled "The Myths versus Realities of Middle School". Period 3 gave tips for "The Road to Middle School Success". And Period 4, by far my most snarky and sarcastic class (no idea where they got that from haha), had the task of writing "How to Annoy Mr. Laffin (and Other Bad Advice)". Overall, the poems were insightful and funny. My students did a great job setting next year's kids up for success.

And that, unfortunately, brings us to the end of the year and the end of my blogs. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to teach your son or daughter this year. I took more chances and tried new things. I learned along the way, right alongside my students. I laughed with them. I got frustrated with them. I worked hard with them and slacked off a bit, too. Overall, it was a great year and I was, again, blessed with some amazing students. I am truly grateful to be working in such a positive and supportive community. Because of YOUR support, I was able to get my Donor's Choose project fully funded! Thank you for not only supporting that project but for supporting me and my classroom throughout the entire year. The teenage years aren't easy for anyone; I know our teamwork benefitted the students immensely.

This time of year is bittersweet; it has been since I was a student. While I LOVE being able to take a break and have a breath, it's also tough. I've watched these seventh graders grow from timid kids at WEB orientation to amazing young adults. Some times were tough and others were so easy. The break is nice, but I'm also a creature of habit. I get used to seeing the same kids in the same order five days a week; I like the structure. I like seeing my coworkers every day. I will genuinely miss each and every one of my students. I loved being able to teach them this year. If there's ever anything you, or they, need, please don't hesitate to ask.

Sincerely, thank you for an amazing year,
Kevin Laffin

Friday, May 26, 2017

Week 32: Roasting the Staff with Limericks (week of 5/26/2017)

This week was a very poetic week! We started with personification and moved into limericks, acrostic poetry, and finally couplets.

We started the week by sharing our personifications out to the class. I heard a variety of different qualities, feelings, and traits personified from anger and joy to sadness and betrayal to adrenaline and love. Hearing my students take these traits and turn them into "people" was really inspiring. What usually starts as "this is really hard" turns out to be amazing writing. If your son or daughter hasn't shared their personification with you yet, beg them to share it with you. You will be impressed!!!

We tried our hands at haikus for two days. I like haikus because they're short, sweet, and to the point. Plus, they don't rhyme which makes them easier to write. I also like the fact that they're focused on nature and its beauty. For me, they're a lot of fun. We then moved onto a sillier poetry project, the limerick. I reminded my students of what limericks are, showed them some samples, and then gave them their guidelines. Mr. Calandro and I had been talking in the office before school that day and came up with the idea: have the students honor or "roast" the teachers and staff on campus in their limerick. The students loved the idea and immediately started to find ways to honor and make fun of their favorite teachers. I let my classes know that they had to be nice, as I'd be compiling their work and sharing it with their teachers. The limericks were hilarious and well done!

We ended the week by taking a look at couplets. Couplets are poems where the stanzas are broken into two lines with rhymes at the end. My students are writing couplets about something they enjoy and are tasked with writing four stanzas (for a total of eight lines). While couplets are a little sing-songy, they're not annoying enough for me to avoid. I avoid other, more annoying types of poetry but couplets are easy and fun!

Lastly, my Donor's Choose project is coming to a close shortly. On Wednesday, June 7th, the project will close and we'll either be fully funded and receive our materials or the money will be returned to the donator who then gets to decide where the money goes (to another project on the website, back to the teacher as a DonorsChoose.org gift card, etc.). That's the bad news. However, there's A LOT of good news!!! Since the last time I posted we've received a lot of donations. We're officially $247 away from a fully funded project!!! Thank you all who have donated and spread the word for our amazing students. I'm floored by everyone's generosity and support. THANK YOU!!!

If you still would like to donate or know someone who does, please send them to my class page on Donor's Choose: https://www.donorschoose.org/project/stand-up-for-education/2444004/?rf=link-siteshare-2017-05-teacher-teacher_1779689&challengeid=283838

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What has been your favorite type of poetry so far? Why did you enjoy writing it?
2. How does figurative language enhance poetry? Which part of figurative language does the best job at enhancing writing? Why do you think that?
3. What is one thing you've done this year that you're especially proud of? What makes you proud of it?

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Week 31: SBAC Testing and Looking for Next Year's WEB Leaders (week of 5/19/2017)

This week there's not a ton to report on. You son or daughter took the SBAC test in both their English and math classes. If they didn't get to finish, no worries. Make-ups will take place during the school day next week. I got two assignments graded during testing so check PowerSchool for some updates.

The focus of this week's blog is the WEB ("Where Everybody Belongs") program, an orientation and transition program I co-coordinate with Miss Ahearn, our Leadership teacher. WEB Leaders help run the orientation program before school starts by leading the incoming class through small group team building and get-to-know-you activities. Throughout the year, they reconnect with their group on a personal basis at school and at after-school WEB activities. These activities are all designed to make the middle school years less scary and more fun while building meaningful relationships with upperclassmen and peers. Your son or daughter is invited and encouraged to apply if they see themselves as any type of leader. Applications went out yesterday based on teacher recommendations.

Whether your son or daughter received the invitation or not, they are welcome to apply. We first take teacher recommendations for student leaders because the staff knows what the program entails and what type of leader we're looking for. What we're truly looking for is a nice cross-section of Laguna. We want leaders from every background, every club, every elective, and every level of leadership ability so that the connection between our 8th-grade leaders and incoming 7th-grade class is strong. Please encourage your son or daughter to apply and become a part of Laguna's legacy for years to come. Applications are available in Student Services, room E8 (Miss Ahearn's room), and room G6 (my room). They are due to Student Services by Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

 Please review the following dates, as some are mandatory for students who wish to be WEB Leaders:

• *Spring Play Day: Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm;
• *WEB Leader training: Thursday, August 10, 2017, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm
 and Friday, August 11, 2017, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm;
• *7th Grade Orientation: Monday, August 14th, 2017, 7:00 am – 12:30 pm
7th Grade Registration Day (Optional): Tuesday, August 15, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
First day of school: Monday, August 21st; wear your WEB leader shirt
 and help seventh graders with directions and questions;
First WEB Leader meeting: Wednesday, August 30, at lunch in H-1;
Attend the “Back to School Dance”: Friday, September 15th; call your team
 and invite them to attend the dance with you!
Be available for Follow Up activities, such as WEB Homebase Takeovers, throughout the year.
*These events are MANDATORY to be a WEB leader!







If your son or daughter is interested in becoming a WEB Leader, please encourage them to apply. If they're interested but can't make the mandatory dates, they can still participate in the WEB program as an A-team member. A-team members help run the WEB program but aren't assigned to a group of 7th-graders. Our A-team is welcome at any and all WEB activities and helps with set-up and take-down of the activity, running the activity, and helping with the small WEB groups as needed. Being part of the WEB program is a great way to give back to your school in a meaningful way!

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What qualities do you have that make you a leader?
2. How has the WEB program helped you this year?
3. What is your favorite thing about Laguna Middle School?

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, May 12, 2017

Week 30: Enhancing Writing with Figurative Language (week of 5/12/2017)

First of all, THANK YOU to all of you who came to visit at open house. It was nice to finally put some faces with the names and great to see you again.

This week, we dove deeper into figurative language and really studied its effect on writing. After completing our notes, we practice our new skills by analyzing song lyrics and a poem. It was clear to me in these two assignments that my students were ready to move onto bigger and better things (because they did so well), so we ended our week really focussing in on personification. Personification is giving any non-human thing human-like qualities. Disney does an amazing job at personifying animals ("Finding Nemo", "The Lion King", Mickey, Minnie, etc.), objects (Lumiere, Cogsworth, Plumette, and basically all the characters inside the castle in "Beauty and the Beast", feelings or ideas (Fear, Anger, Disgust, Joy, and Sadness from the absolutely brilliant "Inside Out"), and even plants and weather in "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000" (as well as the animated shorts created throughout the year).

After taking a look at personified qualities and character traits in
J. Ruth Gendler's "The Book of Qualities", I had students practice writing personifying "betrayal" with me. We looked at what betrayal actually is and then assigned actions, looks, smells, tastes, colors, feelings, and sounds to it. After brainstorming, we took a look at a sample from one of my former students. When we'd gotten a really good look at the assignment, I set my students free to brainstorm. They chose ANY character trait, quality, or feeling they wanted and began the process. I've seen a lot of amazing, and deep, ideas so far. I'm really excited to see the final product and have it shared with my classes.

We'll be concluding our year with figurative language and creative writing in a poetry unit. I've incorporated some of my favorite forms of poetry and hope that my students really enjoy where we take our writing.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What is personification? How will I be able to tell if something has been personified? What are some examples of personification from popular books or movies?
2. Which character trait or quality did you personify? How did you make it come to life in your writing?
3. What is one thing you've done this year that you're especially proud of? What makes you proud of it?

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, May 2, 2017

Weeks 25-29: Real World Argumentative Writing and the Final Unit

...and we're back! It's been a while since I've checked in. Between friends from LA coming up for Spring Break, two field trips (the AVID college trip and the SLOHS Choir trip), and Spring having most definitely sprung, it's been a little nuts over here. The good news is that we've been working hard on our argumentative writing since the last blog so there's not a lot to update on.

The week of March 31 we completed the District Writing Assessment on argumentative writing. Students had three days to read the prompt and provided sources, outline and form an argument, and physically write that argument. I've completed the grading of the assessment and I must say that must students are really getting it. Not only are they writing full, complete arguments but they're also upping their game and writing in an academic, scholarly, and professional way. I'm really proud of my students and their amazing writing!

Moving on, we started and finished our final argumentative writing unit, Tap versus Bottled Water. Last year, I was trained in the Cal State University's program, "Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum" (or ERWC). One of their argumentative units pits tap water versus bottled water. We've  taken a look at multiple sources written in different nonfiction styles. We've also taken a look at the vocabulary of each piece and discussed our evolving opinions on which type of water is better. What, to me, seems like a boring topic turns out to be engaging and exciting every year. The students are able to craft excellent arguments as we work towards argumentative writing in the real world: an argumentative letter. Their final products look amazing and I'm so proud of the hard work and dedication my students have shown!

Looking forward, I've made a few adjustments to our schedule. The big changes are that I'm no longer assigning an Independent Book Project for the 4th quarter and we'll also not be reading "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. I took a look at our calendar and with essentially four teachable weeks left in the school year (not including state testing and the last week of school; we're still about six weeks from the end of the year), time was not on my side. My students are still required to read for 20 minutes each night, Monday-Thursday, but can now choose the novel that they want to read. In lieu of "The Giver", we'll be diving back into creative writing with our poetry unit. It's always a fun unit to end the year on and I know my students will really enjoy it.

Lastly, the WEB program. It's the time of year where we say goodbye to this year's WEB leaders and gear up for next year's. All 7th graders are encouraged to apply to be a WEB leader. As the coordinator and teacher to ~120 of them, I see a lot of AMAZING leaders on our campus (and especially in my classes). If your son or daughter is interested in a leadership opportunity on campus that won't take over their elective class, WEB is the program for them. Please be advised that all WEB leaders will be required to participate in a 2-day training in August just before school starts as well as the orientation day. Since your son or daughter is part of Laguna's first 7th grade class to go through the WEB program, I know they'll be excellent leaders next year. We're looking for leaders from all different backgrounds and leadership experiences to join the crew. If you think your son or daughter would benefit from this experience, please encourage them to apply in the next coming weeks when it's announced.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What elective are you looking forward to next year?
2. How is argumentative writing different in a letter than it is in an essay?
3. Do you see yourself as a leader? Why or why not? What leadership qualities do you already have?

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, March 27, 2017

Week 24: District Writing Assessment- Argumentative Writing (week of 3/24/2017)

This past week, we took a closer look at argumentative writing in preparation for our final District Writing Assessment. What we started with when we did the bullying unit was looked at more in depth with this latest study of argumentative writing. The assessment will take place Monday, March 27 through Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

I spent a couple of hours on campus Saturday providing feedback on my students' writing. Those who turned their practice paragraphs in on Google Classroom received feedback. Please take a moment this weekend to review the paragraph with your son or daughter regardless of if they received feedback from me or not. Your feedback and support will help them to prepare for the upcoming assessment.

I've noticed with this group of seventh graders that their skills in argumentative writing are pretty high. Not only are they able to take a topic and craft an argument, they're able to support it appropriately with evidence from outside sources (whether those sources are provided or not). Not only that, but they are also doing a great job identifying possible counter-arguments. With the Common Core State Standards, this is the first year students are expected to include counter-arguments in their writing. It's a tough concept because it's not necessarily black and white (for example, rarely will students find evidence that directly counters their argument). In each of my classes, students have been able to find evidence that provides another side to their argument, whether that argument is directly stated or inferred. Once students have identified a counter-argument and supported it well, they rebut it more information supporting their argument. The vocabulary in this final piece of evidence and elaboration needs to be strong to really prove the argument. My students had a great time using strong vocabulary in an effort to knock the counter-argument down. Overall, my students are well prepared for their final writing assessment.

I'll be back later this week with an update as well as a preview of where we're going.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What are the key elements of argumentative writing?
2. Why is a counter-argument important when you're writing your argument?
3. How can you cite your sources in your argumentative writing? Is there only one way or are there multiple ways?

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, March 19, 2017

Week 23: Three Down, One to Go! New Opportunities Await... (week of 3/17/2017)

It's official! Third quarter is officially in the book. Quarter report cards should be arriving in two weeks. For your son or daughter's current progress, please check PowerSchool. Also, please note that grades for third quarter are finalized at this time. Any assignment with a zero, whether it's missing or late, will remain a zero in the gradebook. Now is a great time to have a conversation with your son or daughter about not only finishing strong, but also about all of the opportunities they'll be presented with this quarter in preparation for their eighth grade year. More on those opportunities later in the blog.

Up first, the Independent Book Project. This quarter, students experienced the trials and tribulations of working in a group. I really stressed the idea of "teamwork makes the dream work" to my students often throughout this unit. While there were some less-than-desirable outcomes for some groups, most fared really well. In their presentations, I saw that they'd really dug deep into their book and gotten to know their characters and settings well. The weekly book club meetings strengthened each individual students' understanding of the book in general as well as in relation to the various lenses we looked through (point of view, characterization, tone and purpose, etc.). I was really impressed with the book talks as well as the travelogues that were produced as a result. The two days we spent building the slideshows in class were impressive as I heard students in their books clubs compiling their knowledge to present the best information possible. In addition, my students really held themselves and their groups accountable for sticking to "final form" in an effort to present the most academic and scholarly slideshow possible. If you haven't gotten a chance yet, ask to see your son our daughter's handiwork. I think you'll be impressed!

As a reminder, any work that is not turned in when collected for whatever reason (late, absent) will be graded/updated in the gradebook when I have a chance to get to it. Please keep this in mind as we go into our final quarter as the last day of school is the deadline for ALL work. Please continue checking my homework website, Google Classroom, and PowerSchool to ensure that your son or daughter is as successful as they can be. It is up to the student to check my homework website, Google Classroom, PowerSchool, the "extras/absent box", and call their classmates for any work they may have missed. I do not offer any extra credit work in my class for any reason. Students should do their regular work and aim for the "above standard" category on every assignment that has a rubric. "Above standard" results in extra credit. The only other extra credit I offer is Kahoot and Quizlet Live; students must be on the leaderboard to receive extra credit. This can be done by diligently completing assignments and studying the provided Quizlet vocabulary sets on my homework website.

Lastly, the fourth quarter is here and so are the new opportunities that eighth graders get. Soon, we'll be presenting the elective options to our 7th graders in an assembly. Wheel electives now become semester electives, for the most part. Leadership is available to eighth graders who want to put on activities for our student body. There is a mandatory Leadership meeting at lunch on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 in H1 for all interested students. There will also be an application and interview process in preparation for next year's Leadership class. In addition, we're rolling into our second year with the WEB program. Ms. Ahearn and I, the WEB Program Coordinators, will begin taking applications for future WEB Leaders and will hold interviews soon. WEB is not an elective class at Laguna, but an extra-curricular leadership and volunteer program. Your son or daughter's elective choice will not be affected in any way by choosing to be a WEB Leader. That being said, there are some mandatory training and activity dates for all WEB Leaders. Information will be coming home soon. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

In addition to new elective opportunities, Accelerated Math and Accelerated English will also be offered to students who qualify. I'm told information has already gone home for both, but stay tuned if I'm mistaken. There will be multiple testing opportunities for both classes.

Question for the dinner table/drive home:
1. What did you learn about working with your friends in a group project? Did you get the grades you were expecting on the project? Why or why not?
2. The next time you're given the opportunity to choose a group to work with, what will you remember?
3. What opportunities are you looking forward to for your eighth grade year? How can you ensure that you finish the year strong and get those opportunities?

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