Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How Do We Get People to Listen to What We Have to Say?

This is the question that the 6th, 7th and 8th graders will try to answer as they prepare speeches for this year's Modern Woodmen of America's speech contest. The topic for the contest is "What does it mean to be a hero?" Students will create and present a 3-5 minute speech that focuses on this topic. While they are brainstorming, researching and writing their speeches, students will also be learning strategies and techniques that they can incorporate into their writing to ensure that their audience remains engaged with their speech. Some of these include: writing engaging leads, using emotion, using repetition, incorporating powerful quotes, and concluding in a way that leaves the audience thinking.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mythology

The 6th-8th grade students have spent the last few weeks studying the genre of mythology. Students have been seeking to discover how the culture and belief system of the Ancient Greeks have impacted our current culture today. Did you know that our idea of democracy first got it's start with the Ancient Greek people? Did you also know that the literature, art, philosophy and theater from the time period of the Ancient Greeks continues to impact us today?

Throughout this unit of study the 6th-8th grade students have familiarized themselves with the ways of life for the people living in Greece during 800 BC. They have completed research, a web quest and studied maps of the land to help further this understanding. Students have also begun discussing the belief system of the Ancient Greek people - mythology. They have studied how the Greek people believed their world started and have begun discussing the many gods and goddess whom the Greeks believed created the many natural events that occurred in their life. These gods, it's believed, helped answer the fundamental and difficult questions about the people and their world. Students will continue to study these gods and goddesses and will even participate in reader's theater's activities where they will get to portray these gods and goddesses through acting!


Monday, January 16, 2017

New Year, New Goals!

I can't believe we are already into 2017! Time is just flying by! Now that we have returned from a long break hopefully everyone is feeling refreshed, revived, and ready to take-on a new year! In our middle level ELA class we have discussed the meaning of New Year's resolutions, why people make them, and why they are sometimes unsuccessful. One explanation was that people make them because it gives them something to work toward and focus on about themselves for a year. Students continued to explain that they people might not be successful with their goals because they fall back on bad habits and forget to follow-through...ultimately making changes can be challenging! Following this discussion the 6th-8th grade students set new personal reading goals (ones that felt attainable and meaningful). Each week they are asked to reflect upon their progress toward this goal...How are they doing? What resources might they need? What barriers might be in their way. When they feel they have met their goals, students will present evidence toward the goal and set a new goal.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Dickensian Christmas

As we head into the holiday season the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students will spend the next couple of weeks studying Charles Dickens and his story, A Christmas Carol. A major focus of this study will be on the Victorian Era and how it impacted Charles Dickens. This was the time period of Charles Dickens. His writing was highly influenced by what he observed during this time. Students will gain an understanding of this time period through videos and readings. They will then read A Christmas Carol and find examples of where Charles Dickens wove in his feelings during this time. They will look for examples of the time period through descriptions of the setting and determine if Charles Dickens's representation is accurate. Students will also focus on symbolism and theme throughout this unit of study. Students will also participate in a web quest where they will complete a series of tasks via online links. Students will analyze the characters of A Christmas Carol and then take on the role of a character attending a Christmas party hosted by Scrooge. They will need to represent an understanding for this time period, the personality of Scrooge, and the behavior of characters during this time. This is a great tie-in to our trip to the Grand on December 9th where we will watch the play version of A Christmas Carol.





Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Study

The 6th, 7th, and 8th graders will be spending the next couple of weeks working in small book study groups. Ms. Pothier will be leading a group of students reading the book, Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Mr. Walsh will be leading a group of students reading, Tex by S.E. Hinton, and Mrs. MacDonald will be leading a group reading the book, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Each of these engaging, though-provoking texts has a unique plot structure, well-developed characters, and meaningful, complex themes. Throughout this study students will participate in online books study discussion groups, small group meetings, and whole-class conversations regarding important literary elements. By the end of our book study students will know and be able to:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.3
Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.1
Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text..

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.




Monday, October 24, 2016

What Do Skilled Readers Do?

This question could be answered in many ways. Skilled readers use a variety of strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words, increase their comprehension, and overall connect with their reading. Skilled readers also understand which stance they need to take based on the genre of the material they are reading.

Recently the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students have discovered that one of the strategies that skilled readers use is to think beyond the text. Students have discovered that some information is provided right in the reading, but that other information needs to be inferred. This means that students need to use the information from the text and their own knowledge and experiences to draw conclusions about the text. By doing this students are able to connect more deeply with the text, form their own opinions/ideas, and increase their comprehension. To demonstrate their understanding of this strategy students have read short, informational articles and responded to constructed response questions where they stated a claim, supported their claim with evidence from the text and provided further commentary to support their claim. This has allowed students to begin to think and respond more critically to text.



Monday, October 10, 2016

The Writing Process

Every writer approaches writing in their own unique way. They determine their topic and audience. Each writer thinks about the message they want to send, and their purpose for each piece of writing. They also think about the words they use and how what they say will impact their readers. One thing that remains the same, however, is that every writer follows a process. This process is extremely important to help writers feel organized and focused. How each writer approaches the process is unique to their own needs, but every step is evident in every writing piece! The following is a list and description of each step of the writing process:

Prewriting - This is when writers come up with their ideas and create a plan for their writing.

Drafting - This is the step where students write their draft. Writers will use their notes from the 
                 prewriting process to guide their writing. This part of the process is for the writer! 

Revising - This is the step where writers now carefully consider their audience. They attempt to see
                  their writing through the eyes of their reader. They reorganize, change words, rewrite 
                  sections, etc, if they are not clearly getting their message across or impacting their 
                  their audience the way they intend. 

Editing - This is where writers are making sure they have used correct grammar. They fix spelling,
                capitalization, punctuation, and grammar usage. 

Publishing - This is the step where writers produce a final copy that is ready for sharing.


The middle level students are discovering how important it is to follow each step of the writing process and that it is a recursive process. This means that students may have to move about the steps out of order.  For example, a student may realize that after revising they have to return to the prewriting stage to develop their ideas further.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

Genres: Who knew there were so many?!

The middle level students have been studying the many literary genres that exist! Understanding these genres helps each student know which types of books they like/dislike. This will help them choose books as well as provide ways to challenge themselves as readers. Understanding individual genres also helps students understand how to approach each type of writing. Each genre has it's own specific traits. Knowing these will provide students with the information necessary to increase their ability to read and understand the texts. Author's also write nonfiction texts (persuasive writing, autobiographies, information, biographies, etc) for different reasons than author's write fiction text (realistic fiction, mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, etc). Knowing this will help students set their own purpose for reading. Knowing their purpose will help them determine the strategies they will need as a reader to understand each writing piece.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Off To A Great Start!

The school year is well underway and the students seem to have adjusted nicely! In our middle level ELA class we have been focusing on team-building, creating expectations for how we can work successfully in our collaborative environment, and launching our reader's and writer's workshops! We have discussed our reading goal of becoming critical, passionate, life-long, skilled readers and have considered ways that we can intentionally plan in order to achieve our goal. Students have set reading page goals, and have discussed effective ways to choose books. We have also discussed our writing goal of becoming critical, passionate, life-long, skilled writers. Students have made a plan for how they could achieve this goal. Currently, students are working on autobiography islands and writing pieces as a creative way to share a little about who they are. These are very creative and I am excited to have them up and ready for our October parent conferences!
Here is a sample map from another classroom! (Mrs. Lopez In the Art Room)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

School Speech Contest

On April 14th twelve students from fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade participated in our school speech contest. These twelve students prepared speeches on the topic "Hunger in America". They participated in a classroom contest and placed in the top spots in these contests. These twelve students did a great job at our school contest. I am pleased to announce our three winners; Emily Gagnon (grade 5), Darren Easler (grade 6) and Trinity Montigny (grade 8). These three students then participated in the district competition at Ellsworth Elementary School on April 27th. These students did an amazing job! I hope they are as proud of themselves as I am of them!

Classroom Speech Contest Winners

All students did an amazing job preparing and presenting their speeches on the topic "Hunger in America". I am pleased to announce the nine classroom contest winners for the 6-8th grade.

6th Grade:
Darren Easler
Dallas Flood
Sean Daugherty
Gage Hammond
Gavin Coffin

Seventh Grade:
Hunter Flood

Eighth Grade:
Trinity Montigny
Makayla Fishburn
Brianna Abbott


Speeches

April was such a busy, rewarding and exciting month! The students in grades 6-8 worked very hard on researching, writing, and presenting speeches for our classroom, school and district contests. Our school participates in the Modern Woodmen of America's school speech contest. Each year we are provided with a topic and guidelines for presenting speeches. Students then participate in a classroom contest where the top finishers move on to a school contest. The top three finishers of this contest move on to a district competition. This year we competed with Ellsworth, Lamoine, and Hancock. The topic this year was "Hunger in America". This topic proved to be challenging, but in the end the 6-8th grade students prepared wonderful speeches. During this unit students learn how to narrow a large topic, choose topics based on their audience, research information, and write this research into their own words. They also learn how to add emotion to their writing. They also study the skills of public speaking. They focus on their tone, rate of speaking, pronunciation and enunciation. Many students begin this unit with apprehension, but by the end most are so proud of their work!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Speech Contest

How can I get people to listen to what I have to say? This is the question that the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students will be attempting to answer as they begin working on a speaking and listening unit that correlates with a national speaking competition. Each year our school participates in the Modern Woodmen of America's speech contest. The students in grades 4-8 write and present their own unique speeches about a provided topic. This year the topic is: Hunger in America. To begin this unit of study our class had a discussion about what we would have to do if we were going to prepare and present speeches that people would listen to. The following is a list of some of the things the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students said:

write an engaging lead
know your audience and appeal to them (choose a good topic)
stick to a central idea (focused topic)
add voice and personality
keep facts to the most important
use surprising or new information
give the audience something to think about
be enthusiastic
speak clearly
be aware of posture

As we work on this unit students will learn the importance of narrowing a broad topic, asking questions to guide research, locating important information, preparing organized writing pieces, writing powerful leads and conclusions, how to choose a high-interest topic for an audience, the many skills necessary to produce quality, effective writing pieces, and the traits of skilled speaking.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Memoir


 


How do our relationships with people, places, objects, and pets shape us? This is the question that the 6-8th grade students have been and will continue to explore as they create and study memoirs in both poetry and prose formats. Memoirs focus on specific moments from our past. These moments may be happy, sad, exciting, or fearful. Regardless of our emotional responses, our experiences (moments) shape us. The 6-8th grade students have been reading and analyzing a variety of memoirs written as poems and short stories. Students have created a list of qualities that create an effective memoir. This list includes but is not limited to: using the first person point of view, having one central purpose (theme), using dialogue, staying on topic, using figurative language, and providing purposeful details.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trimester One Reading Recap

I can't believe we are already at the end of the first trimester! The fourth and fifth grade students have been working very hard on achieving their goal of becoming skilled, critical, habitual, life-long readers! They have worked to meet individual page goals and as a matter of fact, many of them had to reset these page goals multiple times! They have also done a great job maintaining all of the important paperwork needed to create purposeful, intentional reading plans!




This trimester students also began the process of studying a variety of genres. By having a clearer knowledge of the qualities of these genres students open the door to many reading possibilities that they might not have thought they would enjoy! Knowing the specific traits of each genre also helps students approach each type of text successfully. They can now try new types of readings with confidence and excitement! As a final assessment students created a fiction and nonfiction genre comic strip for a specific sub genre. Students were challenged with making sure their comic strips contained the qualities specific to the chosen sub genre. Each student then viewed the comic strips  made by their classmates and determined their sub genres. This was a fun and engaging way for students to demonstrate their genre knowledge!

End of Trimester One Writing Recap


This trimester the fourth and fifth grade students have done a great job settling into the structures of writing workshop. Students have created expectations and rules for a successful writer's workshop and have worked very hard to maintain this necessary structure! This type of writing structure consists of a minilesson, ample writing time, and time for peer and teacher conferencing and editing.


For the first trimester students focused on the poetry genre. Students determined subject matters that had meaning for them, learned how to focus on the most important ideas, and how to use the most specific, powerful language to get their ideas across. We also discussed the use of figurative language, focusing specifically on similes and metaphors. We closely read and analyzed many pieces of poetry written by various authors and determined how their words and use of figurative language created mood, sensory reactions, and showed insight into the lives, thoughts, feelings and personality of the poet. Students also discussed how the poets words impacted them as readers. By the end of the trimester students produced many of their own poetic writing pieces!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Hopes and Dreams

During our first few days of school students were asked to reflect on the things that they accomplished last year and the things that might have been challenging. Following a discussion about these reflections students were asked to think about what they hope to accomplish this school year. They generated a long list and were then asked to narrow it down to their most important one or two. These were written down and are on display on the bulletin board outside of our ELA classroom. Following this activity students were asked to think about what they need in order to achieve these hopes and dreams. This lead to a discussion and the creation of our classroom rules.

Team-Building


Welcome to our first week of school! A focus for our middle level is on creating a healthy, effective middle level learning community. As a whole group we have discussed our expectations for our behavior and participated in some fun team-building activities! This carried over into our individual classrooms. In our literacy class we participated in a hands-on team-building activity where students had to construct a structure from playing cards. They were limited in resources, time, and were asked not to communicate for the first 15 minutes. Following this activity students brainstormed a list of the qualities of an effective team-member! Students worked extremely well together and produced some very interesting structures. Make sure you look for these at Open-House!



               

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Crime and Investigation

Sixth through eighth graders wrapped up their mystery unit with a visit from Maine State Police Detective, Greg Mitchell. The first part of Mitchell’s presentation engaged students in a discussion about the different types of evidence. “While records and interviews are important,” says Mitchell, “the evidence at the crime scene is especially crucial. You can’t ignore what you know to fit a theory.” What can we prove? was the theme of his presentation, and Mitchell designed a practicum which provided our middle schoolers with an opportunity to play detective. Students worked in teams to solve a crime as Mitchell provided them with clues and pretended to be different suspects. During a final question and answer session about Mitchell’s career as a detective, he stressed the importance of literacy and teamwork skills in his work. Throughout the mystery unit, students have explored nonfiction texts about forensic science as well as practiced their own investigative skills by solving fictional mysteries.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mystery Plays

The mystery genre is one of the most popular forms of storytelling in the world, and mystery stories have a respected literary history. Romantic authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the earliest mysteries, and the genre evolved through the works of Victorian authors like Nathaniel Hawthorn. The mystery story was established as a popular standard by the 1920s and 1930s, and mass media has lead to its growth.

In order to broaden students' exposure to the roots of the genre, our students were given an opportunity to perform classic mystery plays. The plays were a sampling of the most common forms of mystery stories, including tales of blackmail and con artists, hardboiled murderers and complicated whodunits. Students split into three groups to perform the following classic mystery stories by famous writers:

"Silver Blaze" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
"The Tenth Clew" by Dashielle Hammett
"As Simple as ABC" by Ellery Queen

After first reading for mystery story elements, students then began practicing their lines to improve fluency and expression and develop believable characters. Once our focus turned more to performance and delivery, students explored ways of dramatizing the scene in terms of their acting, interactions with each other and the audience, transitions, costumes, staging, props, etc. We invited fourth and fifth graders to watch the final presentations. Halfway through each play, we engaged the audience in a discussion to see if members were able to solve the mystery!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mystery History

Did you know that the true mystery story began in 1841 with Edgar Allen Poe's "The Murders in the Rule Morgue"? We learned this and much more about the mystery genre while unpacking a challenging, nonfiction text. Some of the strategies we used while reading were coding and previewing tough vocabulary. Students learned how the mystery story has changed over time. After reading, students worked in groups to create timelines that captured this new learning. Timelines included main events with supporting evidence, including important dates, invented characters, influential authors (like Sir Arther Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King), and variations of the classic detective story. Students had the opportunity to follow up with some research and to find images that enhanced the messages in their timelines.

19 Drafts

Even the very best and published writers think, write, rethink, correct, and write some more before arriving at a final draft. To deepen our discussion about the writing process, we read a final, published version of Donald Hall's poem, Ox Cart Man. Students then partnered up to examine the many drafts of Donald Hall's poem. Students made notes about Hall's writing process. In particular, they examined the specific changes he made to each of the nineteen drafts. Our discussion reinforced the idea that writing is not a single activity. It's a process that involves lots of actions, steps, behaviors, thoughts, and changes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Harris Burdick… a real life mystery?

We continue to dig deeper into our study of the mystery genre by practicing another skill of critical thinkers and readers: inferencing. Do you know about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick? One day a mysterious author and illustrator showed up in the publishing office of Peter Wenders. He had fourteen pictures depicting scenes from various stories he had written and illustrated. He promised to return the next day with the full stories but was never heard from again. Over the years, the pictures and their captions have inspired the writing of many stories. On October 31st, our students had the chance to examine Harris Burdick’s pictures much like detectives solving a mystery. Students partnered up and inspected his images using flashlights in a darkened room. They recorded their observations, questions, and inferences on their detectives' logs. Harris Burdick's images will not only inspire mystery writing for some, we will deepen our discussion of story elements while reading stories (which were also inspired by the images) by published authors. Was Harris Burdick a real man? We may never know.

Critical Thinking Puzzles

We’ve activated our critical thinking skills while reading short mystery (puzzle) stories! Below is what students believe are the characteristics of critical thinkers. Finding solutions to the puzzles has also lead us to the study of key vocabulary for our mystery unit. Some of the words include relevant, irrelevant, and contradiction, which are perfect words for studying word parts (the prefixes ir- and contra-).

• try different solutions
• think below the surface • identify relevant and irrelevant information
• look passed the obvious
• identify everything you know
• think while you read/do
• read/reread
• think hard - really, really think
• come back - refresh
• perseverance - persistent
• take advantage of best thinking time
• be intentional/passionate/curious
• goal-oriented
• examine closely
• look for inconsistencies
• think creatively
• talk about information
• collaborate
• support/provide evidence

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Power of Setting

Setting is the time, place, and environment in which a story takes place. Here’s what our students say about why setting is important:

• Setting gives us a sense of place.
• We need it in order for the story to exist.
• Creating a setting with vivid descriptions keeps the reader interested.
• Setting influences (affects) the character.

Settings are crucial to what literary characters think and do as real-life environments are to our own thoughts and actions. We spent some time thinking about how our own settings (e.g. classroom, small town, rural Maine, adolescence, 21st century) affect our lives.

In good literature, settings are made real to us through the writer’s use of precise words and phrases that appeal to our senses. To practice with this important story element, our students highlighted words or phrases that help them envision the setting in the short story, Shadows, by Richard Peck. Not only did they search for clues and write constructed responses about the impact of setting on characters and readers, they also learned to make found poems that borrow an author’s words.

Learn more about the poetic form, found poem.

Tales of Terror

What fun we had leading up to Halloween! Students enjoyed creating two-sentence tales of terror. These tales came out of our conversation about mysteries and the power of language in even the briefest of passages. Each student created his or her own tale using specific details to create a feeling of fear or terror. We all enjoyed looking for setting pictures that enhance the message or hint at the story rather than "say" too much.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mystery Genre

We've started an in-depth study of the mystery genre by discussing what we already know about mysteries. We also examined the elements of a short story or novel through our reading of the mysterious story, Shadows, by Richard Peck.  Is it a mystery, we asked ourselves?

In this genre study, we will:
• Learn what makes a mystery by defining and identifying characteristics
• Investigate to answer “Whodunit?” through use of reading strategies and close reading skills
• Solve mysteries through logical thinking and drawing conclusions
• Learn the literary techniques that authors use to craft mysteries and engage readers

The unit will involve reading poems, short stories, and nonfiction texts, acting out plays by classic mystery writers, taking part in an interactive whodunit mystery, and much, much more!  We are planning on a guest speaker to talk with students about the scientific side of being an investigator, and some of our students may even decide to write mystery stories themselves!

Word Detectives

The kick-off of our mystery genre study began with a fun and engaging word activity.  Played much like the popular HedBanz board game, students had a word from our reading taped to their foreheads and traveled around the classroom to ask their classmates a series of questions.  The clues (about syllables, part of speech, antonyms, examples, etc.) led students to draw conclusions about which mystery word they had.  Students kept coming back for more words!  They had a fantastic time while learning not just more words, but more about words.





Project Word

Several weeks ago we started a word study unit that will take us through the whole year.  The goal of "Project Word" is to:

1) learn more words
2) learn more about words
3) become a life-long and passionate learner of words

Students began the year-long unit by making a list of their favorite words-- words they love, words that describe them, and words that describe the things they love.  This helped to build our excitement around the study and use of words.  Just recently, we read aloud the tall tale, The Boy Who Loved Words, by Roni Schotter.  In this award-winning book, Selig collects words that sound good to his ears, stir his heart, make him laugh, and inspire others.  Like Selig, we have displayed our favorite and newly-learned words on tree branches to share with other readers and writers.


Monday, October 13, 2014

The Selfie Project

To kick-start our ELA class this year we asked our students to write about five things they thought we should know about them. We then asked them to take five different selfies that illustrate these five things.  Some of the images captured were of students in their favorite locations, with a beloved pet or family member, or holding an object to represent their favorite hobby.  We started the lesson by reading an informational text about the history of the selfie as part of a discussion about the things that skilled readers before, during, and after reading.  Did you know that one of the first selfie's taken by a teenager was in 1914? Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, at the age of 13, used the Kodak Brownie Box and a mirror to catch this image. The very first known selfie, however, was taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography. Those large clunky, cameras have now been replaced by the cell phone, so a selfie is a simple button push away! Grab your phone, a friend, or a favorite object and start snapping photos! Don't forget - you need to be in the photo too!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Aargh Me Mateys... It's Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Ms. Parkes led our middle level teachers in organizing a treasure hunt for our fourth through eighth grader learners for International Talk Like a Pirate Day! We sent our buccaneers off with a map leading them to different math, social studies, grammar, and reading comprehension challenges and a chance to win some pirate booty!

Rule of Thumb

Skilled readers use a variety of strategies when choosing the right book. The Rule of Thumb is a quick and easy way to determine if a book might be a holiday, a just right, or a challenge. When using this strategy students open to any page in a new book and begin reading. They keep a count of the number of words they struggle to read with the fingers on one hand. If they reach five words the book might be a challenge for them. We understand, however, that this is just one way to choose a book! We must also consider genre, plot structure, theme, and more!

Recipes for Success

At the start of our school year our students engaged in a great conversation centered around classroom expectations and student behavior. To demonstrate their understanding and feelings about what it takes to be a successful learner, groups of students created recipes for success. Students were placed in small groups where they brainstormed the qualities of a successful learner, decided how much of each trait a student needed, and what these traits, when combined, would create. They then put this all together in a recipe for success. Based on what they came up with, they are well on their way to a successful year!