Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What makes LASD special?

The list of things that make us special would indeed be very long.  I often think that folks don't really appreciate how unique an experience our kids have.  To that end, I received the following note from my daughter's 8th grade English teacher.  Take a look a the concepts they are teaching our junior high students.  I don't know about you, but I didn't learn most of this until much later- high school, and in some cases college.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Dear Parents and Guardians,

    I am late.  I'm VERY late,  and I am so sorry. In my dreams, I imagined writing to you twice a quarter to fill you in on what?s happening in 8th Grade English, but the reality is that I completely missed the first quarter and a half because 13 weeks disappeared like cookies in our staff room!  I was in a tornado of lesson plans, grading, leadership activities, and more grading.  So, I am writing now to let you know where we have been, and where we are going.  Please forgive me.

    First quarter was a blur as my students and I got to know one another and created routines for our class.  We started a new online vocabulary program called Membean that my students loved, but loving a little less as time goes by?it?s amazing what tests do to enthusiasm for learning.  We used short stories and nonfiction articles to learn how to interact with text in order to deepen their understanding of complex ideas.  Students learned how to annotate a variety of texts as way to engage as active readers who can untangle difficult writing.  We also worked on developing confidence in writing an analytical essay based on the movie Dead Poets Society.  The toughest part for students at this age is writing commentary?an explanation of why the evidence they have selected is important.  As you read their commentary in an essay, after an example, ask them ?Why is this important??  When they give you an answer, ask them again, ?Well, why is THAT important??  The answer is what they should write in their commentary.  Texts we used were the movie Dead Poet?s Society, Marigolds a short story by Eugenia Collier, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Valentine for Ernest Mann and The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost as well as three articles with differing points of view about whether or not we are addicted to technology.

    This past quarter our focus was on close reading and discussion behavior.  Our first novel of the year was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a challenging read for many students, but they learned that taking a few more minutes to jot down notes as they read, helped them to remember important ideas and events.  Imagine that!  This is a more mature version of a utopia/dystopia novel like The Giver that students read in 7th grade.  Discussions included ideas such as why do books matter, the importance of challenging ideas rather than accepting them as absolutely correct, and often an ideal existence is another?s nightmare, and we spent time being amazed about how prescient Bradbury was about brain-numbing television programs way back in 1953.  Students created and performed two-voice poems based on important ideas they gleaned from our study.  I?m working on a way to post videos of those performances on my website in the next week or so.  In addition students learned ways to participate and connect ideas in a Socratic Discussion and ways not to dominate a conversation.  We also learned techniques for inviting quieter students to join in.  We are wrapping a poetry unit which is rolling into third quarter.  Students are studying and discussing 17 poems such as To An Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman, The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, The Highwayman by  Alfred Noyes,  Human Family by Maya Angelou, Shiloh by Herman Melville,  sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare, odes, ballads and lyric poetry.  Stop by Wednesday or Thursday and sit in on their small group discussions.  They will dazzle you!

In third quarter we are heading into some wild reading with Lit Circle books such as All The Light We Cannot See, Outliers, The Help, Into Thin Air, Lord of the Flies and The Book Thief.  Students will be working on an analytical essay on a poem of their choice demonstrating mastery in essay writing on their own, and we are excited to meet visiting author Pam Munoz Ryan who will be coming to Blach through the generosity and efforts of Lara Daetz and Peninsula Arts and Letters.  I hope you will to hear her speak also.

I will touch base again with you mid-quarter.  Please come and visit.  You are always welcome. in my classroom.

Happy 2015!

Trisha MacKenzie
8th Grade English