Saturday, October 19, 2013

Progress and Participation

With the quarter coming to a close, we have been preparing for reflection.  Because grades are based on progress and participation, students have been organizing and polishing artifacts that represent their effort and thinking.

To begin, they will need to prove a commitment to their writer's notebooks.  Specifically, students will participate in one-on-one conferences focusing on these criteria: flexibility and fluency; thoughtfulness; and grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.  A notebook that demonstrates flexibility and fluency is one that contains entries that are more than just two or three sentences.  Writing doesn't end abruptly, and ideas are fleshed out.  Likewise, writers should show a willingness to try new ideas, forms, and genres.  If every entry is a soccer narrative, it's time to attempt something new.  On the other hand, assessing thoughtfulness is a little more subjective.  Entries that reveal new insights to the writer's thinking and that are reflective meet this criterion. Thoughtful writing is neither a list, nor a diary entry. Finally, students should consistently employ what they know about good writing.  Sixth grade writers should be able to differentiate between homophones, use correct capitalization, and apply appropriate end punctuation.  Notebooks are not expected to be perfect, but patterns of errors will provide opportunities for additional practice.

Students are expected to actively read assigned texts.  For each, I will ask students to 'notice and note' specific details.  This quarter, they read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.  As part of their interaction with the text, readers needed to annotate for glimpses of Taylor's father, the author's use of thunder, and the marginalization of the Logan family.  Those annotations will serve as tracks of the students' thinking.  Like the writer's notebook, readers will participate in one-on-one conferences with me.  They will be expected to show how they interacted with the text to make meaning, and how their annotations shed light on the author's intentions.

Next week promises to be a reflective one as we work together to construct a picture of individual growth and participation.

photo credit: Amir Kuckovic via photopin cc

Friday, October 11, 2013

Simulating Reality

Students were buying and selling cotton last week in an activity designed to simulate the challenges faced by sharecropping farmers in the 1930s.  As a supplement to reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the sharecropping simulation provides students with a firsthand experience of what it feels like to struggle and stress over financial decisions.  At the same time, they can begin to look more critically at the power structures that were in place during the setting of the novel.  While the protagonists, the Logan's, were not sharecroppers, many of their less fortunate neighbors had no other choice.  A relatively common practice in the post-Civil War South, sharecropping gave white landowners a way to reestablish a cheap labor source.  Simply put, tenant farmers rented land in exchange for a share of the crop. Unfortunately, a cycle of high interest loans and exorbitant rent (frequently as high as 50% of the total crop yield) took advantage of underprivileged blacks and whites, and many became attached to the land for life.  While sharecropping like this is no longer acceptable in the United States, agriculture is still a challenging business.  Today's farmers have a tough row to hoe.  Unexpected spikes in cost, unpredictable weather, and a fickle demand name a few.

It is my hope that as students make some tough choices, they will begin to empathize with those tenant farmers as well as appreciate the difficulties that were endured.  Kids will determine what seed to buy based on its current price, and they will be at the whim of the market come harvest time.  Mother Nature will throw in a few cruel tricks, and the plow might not make it this season. Additionally, students will need to weigh the pros and cons of securing a loan.  By making choices like those families did not so long ago, kids may understand why sharecropping has often been called "slavery by another name."

 photo credit: scismgenie via photopin cc

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Racing Sausages and Gummy Worms

It proved to be an absolutely beautiful afternoon as the whole school assembled on the Ken Laird Field to cheer on the home teams this afternoon.  Thirteen original cheers, beginning with a catchy SK hurrah and ending with a Harlem Shake performance by the seniors, launched the Homecoming 2013 Pep Rally.  The excitement crescendoed as the division heads competed in an unexpected gummy worm eating contest! Pie plates were filled with whipped cream and gummy worms, participants were given towels and shirts, and the messy challenge commenced. While Mrs. Nosbusch may not have come in first, she was certainly a winner in the eyes of the Middle School. Surprises were to be found around Willie's Corner, as the Klement's Famous Racing Sausages made their way to the field amidst a crowd reaction befitting an appearance made by Justin Bieber.  After watching the sausages race, Willie the Wildcat threw down the gauntlet.  In an unprecedented athletic event at USM, Willie raced the sausages, emerged victorious, and capped off an amazing pep rally.  Go Wildcats!

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