Friday, September 28, 2012

Sharing and Acknowledging

Sixth Grade Field Day. Click picture to view photo gallery.
The week began with sixth grade's annual Field Day and everyone had a blast! We focused on community-building as students rotated through various activities that encouraged collaboration and group effort.  From Monkey in a Tree to Keep the Ball in the Air, everyone had an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  It didn't hurt that we had a warm autumn day, either!

Peer Response.  Click picture to view photo gallery.
Composition centered on working with others as well.  After spending time drafting their comparison pieces and learning about block organization, students practiced their peer response and specific feedback skills.  In pairs, writers and reviewers looked for strong comparison points, author's purpose, word choice, elaboration, and clarity.  After receiving feedback, students returned to their work and began revising.  In their Story Grammar books, students analyzed how sentence tools add detail and interest to basic sentences.  Once again, they learned from the greats: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Thomas Rockwell, and Walter Dean Meyers provided excellent examples to study and mimic.  Finally, writing circles had their first official meeting on Friday.  As Jim Vopat, author of Writing Circles, states, "[Writing circles are] small groups of students meeting regularly to share drafts, choose common writing topics, practice positive response, and, in general, help each other become better writers" (1).  Once a week, for the remainder of the semester, groups will meet to share and respond to each other's writing.  Students will practice collaborative revision, editing, and publishing.  Additionally, finished work will be shared and celebrated.  Their first get-together involved instruction in working as a group, meeting consensus, and choosing a topic.  By next week Friday, each group member will be expected to bring a working draft to share with the group for peer feedback.  Every week, I will join a new group and become a part of the process.  Next Friday I have to bring a piece about bicycling.  I think I have the perfect accident - I mean idea!

Raise the Roof. Click picture to view photo gallery
One common way to respond to a poetry reading is by snapping your fingers.  In literature class, students were given that option along with many others as they listened to each other's work.  Before sharing their "Nothing Gold Can Stay" response poems, readers had the opportunity to tell their audience the type of acknowledgement they wanted.  Options included Roller Coaster, Fireworks, Shooting Star, and Sandpaper Kisses to name a few.  Needless to say, it was a hit and it gave students the extra courage needed to read.  In their Daybooks, students analyzed a short nonfiction piece titled, "It's All in How You Say It."  The true narrative chronicles a young girl's realization that her people are grossly misunderstood.  Not only did the piece thematically complement The Outsiders, it allowed students an opportunity to practice what an author is inferring about the main idea.  Speaking of The Outsiders, the end is near and the predictions are flying.  Will Johnny die?  Will Pony and his brothers be separated?  What will happen during the rumble?  Could the Socs and greasers reconcile their differences? At the same time, students explored the dangers of labeling, considered the significance of limits and rules, and examined the relationship between Johnny and the gang.  Wrapping up the novel next week will certainly be bittersweet.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Comparing and Responding

This week in composition we used our Story Grammar books to review subjects and predicates.  Students were reminded that the topic of the sentence is the subject, while the comment about that topic is the predicate.  Students analyzed sentences from Christopher Paolini, Jack London, Beverly Cleary, and many other authors.  Some sentences were quite complex with as many as four subjects and three predicates!  Having a solid understanding of the purpose and function of subjects and predicates will go a long way toward helping students construct better sentences.  Additionally, we began our study of comparison writing.  We took a close look at infographics and writing samples in order to develop an understanding of the purpose of this type of writing.  We also evaluated the effectiveness of each example by looking at what worked well in each one.  Here are two intriguing examples of comparison pieces that we looked at this week:


By the end of the week, students were brainstorming topics to compare and they were organizing their current knowledge.  Some realized that they may have to do a little research in order to insure that they have accurate details and specifications.

During literature class, students studied S.E. Hinton's use of Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."  They considered the significance of Hinton's poetry choice as well as Ponyboy's intent when he recited it for Johnny.  We analyzed the poem by looking at its structure, language, rhythm and rhyme scheme, and it's theme.  With their apologies to Frost, students composed response poems in the spirit of "Nothing Gold Can Stay."  Topics for the poems had to focus on change and ideas ranged from the seasons and growth to friends and time.  Their work should be ready for publication early next week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Homecoming Week

What a week!  From the excitement of our first all-school pep rally to Back to School Night, the middle school has been abuzz with excitement.  There is no question we have certainly had our fun this week.  That being said, the students' dedication to their school work remained strong. Click the picture below for more Homecoming Week pictures.

Homecoming 2012
In composition, we began the week analyzing and mimicking sentence structures used by the masters.  By breaking fantastically written sentences into their parts and then imitating them, students were able to learn by observation and practice.  And who better to teach us about great writing than J.K. Rowling, Katherine Patterson, Madeleine L'Engle, and Roald Dahl?  Students were excited to share their newly created sentences, especially if Mr. Dunning was the subject!  We also continued work on our How-To pieces.  We paid particular attention to using elaboration and details in order to convey a clear and concise message.  Additionally, we began to practice positive response.  Students learned how to give specific praise as well as constructive feedback.  While it will certainly take some time to master those skills, the class was off to a good start as they shared and commented on each other's pieces.

During literature class, we read Ray Bradbury's short story, "All Summer in a Day."  Students discussed how to make valid predictions and then did so as they read the story.  Many astutely pointed out the connection between the protagonist in The Outsiders and the one in the short story.  We also finished Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 of The Outsiders.  Chapter 4 is considered the turning point of the novel, and students recorded passages that they felt were significant.  For each one, they needed to provide evidence of their thinking.

Advising class was dedicated to Dodec presentations.  This community building activity was a great opportunity to learn a little more about each other and to practice our speaking and listening skills. Click on the picture below to see more pictures from the presentations.

Zachary's Dodec

Friday, September 7, 2012

Making Connections

This week, students spent time learning how to make connections to what they are reading.  This skill is particularly important because connections allow the reader to develop a deeper understanding of the text, relate to characters, and understand motives.  At the same time, being able to connect with a text exposes its relevancy in the present, regardless of when it was written. Since The Outsiders was first published in 1967, students often ask why we still study it today.  This is a great question that can be answered, in large part, by whether the message of the story is still relevant.  By making connections to other texts, themselves, and the world around them, students began to understand the significance of what they read.

We started the process by considering what it means to be an outsider and an insider.  Students analyzed aspects of their lives where they felt they had fallen into one category or the other.  They also looked at social groups in the school and evaluated whether they were welcoming or exclusive.  Answers and thoughts varied, but in the end, students felt that USM is an example of a safe, kind, and welcoming environment.  Students also discussed judging others by appearances.  Though many felt it was wrong, there was an overwhelming admission to having done it.  Lastly, the classes addressed the issue of violence and why teenagers seem to be more violent today than even 10 or 15 years ago.  Many felt that teen violence could be attributed to a number of factors: environment, exposure, poor problem-solving skills, and a lack of self-control.  It turned out to be a deep conversation, but a rewarding one, nonetheless.

As students delve deeper into The Outsiders, they will continue to wrestle with these issues and confront the present through the past.  Check out more pictures of our discussion by clicking on the picture below.

Discussing The Outsiders