Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bring on spring!

We have been, in a word, busy. Can’t believe this is the start of the third trimester. Let me catch you up on what’s been happening!

7th grade wrote essays for a statewide contest “If I Led My Community,” and I am thrilled to congratulate Olivia Messer on being one of just three winners! Students also wrote informational pieces and are starting research papers on self-selected topics. We enjoyed reading The Outsiders, took an essay test and compared the book with the movie, and we’re now about halfway through the very powerful Holocaust memoir, I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson. Students seem moved by and engaged with her writing, and this has led to some very good class discussions. 

Both 7th and 8th graders had the option of writing a book review or entering a “Letters About Literature” contest. Students had the fun challenge of writing their life stories in six words…these were illustrated and displayed in the hall. Along with grade 6, 7th and 8th grade participated in the Modern Woodmen’s school speech contest (topic: what is a hero?) earlier this month. To help prepare, we watched videos of previous speakers and noted the use of facial and vocal expression and hand gestures. Congratulations to Noelle Killarney (3rd place), Audrey Pike (2nd place), and Olivia Messer who won 1st place and will have the opportunity to participate in the district contest next month. To “warm up” for the speech contest, 7th and 8th graders gave book talks on their independent books. Both classes learned the importance of the Oxford comma when I shared the story of Oakhurst Dairy drivers suing the company for unpaid overtime, all because of a missing comma in the contract! Grammar does matter :). 

We are in the midst of a short story unit in grade 8 ELA. The stories are challenging (some at the high school/even college level), and students are doing well with them. We’ve read “The Ledge,” “The Lesson,” “The Landlady,” and “The Lottery” (not sure why so many L’s, but kind of a cool coincidence) and are comparing two stories about father/son relationships: Step-Over Toe-Hold and Cradle Hold. For Writing Workshop, 8th graders can choose from a long list of writing pieces: novella, instruction manual, historical fiction, dystopian, narrative, fantasy, editorial, and many more! 

In 8th grade Social Studies, we completed our Civil War unit with a test, small group project and the movie “Glory” which featured the African-American 54th Massachusetts volunteer army. Students were also asked to read a book on the Civil War and present a book talk to the class, as well as write journal entries in the perspective of someone living through the war. We continue to check in on and discuss current world events and are now learning about Reconstruction. 
Dom, Audrey and Lydia with their delicious project of Civil War era foods! 

Looking forward to warmer weather and longer days! Please continue to encourage your children to read at home, every night. Happy spring to everyone. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Looking to 2017!

I have to start with a big thank you to the PTO for this week’s wonderful and thoughtful “Jingle and Mingle” breakfast for staff…we appreciate you so much!

A lot has been happening in middle school ELA and 8th grade Social Studies…last month, 7th graders presented their genre projects. Students recently completed reading The House of the Scorpion with a test and crest - unintentional rhyme there :). Students were asked to compare two main characters by creating family crests which they shared in front of the class. 

8th grade read the very powerful book To Be A Slave and had class discussions, written questions and a final project where students created symbolic art using construction paper, scissors and glue to portray the themes of the book. 
Symbolic artwork for To Be A Slave

8th graders also completed an argument piece and a research paper with citation page. We recently started our Civil War unit (using the textbook as a guide), and we discuss current events via the major news websites several times a week. 

We have been hitting Common Core Language standards with a combination of minilessons, IXL and writing pieces. Spelling is a blend of individualized word lists, discussing patterns and strategies and focusing on commonly-misspelled words, including homophones. Both 7th and 8th graders wrote narratives based on their interviews of veterans at Cole’s Transportation Museum. Free choice writing pieces included comic strips, a slide show, a “letter to my future self,” a set of poems, historical fiction, horror story, nonfiction narrative and a 28 page, 10K+ word fantasy! 
Griffin, Free and Cody with their comic strips!

We started “Hot Chocolate Friday” this month where we enjoy a drink and sometimes a snack along with our books…if anyone would like to donate hot chocolate, cider or snacks, that would be great! 

I am asking students to finish at least one book over vacation. After vacation, we’ll be doing book reviews and writing contests! 

Thanks, as always, for your support at home. Wishing you all a wonderful, restful holiday and a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Happy Fall to all! It was great to meet with parents at conferences…I feel very fortunate to have such wonderful parental support. Thank you! 

We have been busy in middle school ELA. 8th graders finished the class book The Wave (based on the true story of a high school history teacher’s experiment getting out of hand). In addition to class discussion and short essay questions, students participated in a “human sculpting” activity to demonstrate themes of the book. I was very impressed with the length and quality of the narratives from 8th grade: two students hit the 6000 and 10,000 word marks—amazing! We plan to wrap up the author study unit by the end of the month…requirements include reading three books or roughly 1000 pages by the same author, two book reviews, an outline of a book’s plot structure, demonstrating intertextuality with a long-ish :) short story written in the author’s style, and an oral presentation about the books and author, including a costume or prop and food :). I’ve been sharing some of Stephen King’s wisdom from his memoir On Writing. One of my favorite quotes comes from King’s former high school teacher: When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story…write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.

In grade 8 Social Studies, we’ve been studying Maine history via the book Finding Katahdin which students started last year, learning about logging, fishing, shipbuilding and the ice industry in the 1800’s. Other topics included Maine’s industrial revolution, textile mills, immigrants, and myths of Maine. Students were divided into small groups and assigned a section from the chapter “Depression and War in Maine” to present to the rest of the class. We just started our election unit this week, discussing the origin and purpose of political parties and the campaign. 8th graders have been grouped based on their political views and will create their own political parties, personal platforms and take part in a “campaign,” culminating in a convention and mock election on November 8th!

7th grade is in the midst of their genre study, which includes reading three books in one genre, journal entries, writing a paper comparing the books, and presenting three projects at the end of October. This group enjoys creating - some very talented artists and future engineers in here! 7th grade students just finished writing their final argument pieces after receiving peer feedback (Star Trek vs. Star Wars has been a hot topic!). Next up: the class book The House of the Scorpion

Parents, you should have received an invitation to Google Classroom for ELA and Social Studies, so you'll now have access to your children’s assignments. 

Enjoy the rest of this beautiful month and the mild weather...I am in total denial of the season that comes after fall!  

Word of the Day

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Ready? Set? School!

Annnnd we’re off! It’s almost like we’d never left. Welcome back to old friends, and welcome to new ones! I hope everyone had a fabulous summer…my highlight was the July 9th wedding of my oldest daughter, at my parents’ home in Surry. 

Other than that, I stayed pretty close to home - rode my horses, read, wrote, planned for the school year, enjoyed my porch along with my dogs, jogged. I am sure it was wonderful for all of you to have some good family time with your kids…and now they’re back with us!

This year, I’m teaching grades 7 and 8 Language Arts in double blocks as well as 8th grade Social Studies. I will have class overviews at the open house, or your child may be able to share his/hers with you! Students who are not participating in Band, Chorus or Spanish have guided study hall with me. They are invited to listen to music, as long as it’s not distracting or too loud for themselves or others…bonus points for 70’s and 80’s rock ;). We’ll be switching to a standards-based assessment system this year…more on that to follow. 

In order to emphasize the importance of outside reading in our screen-addicted society, I’m asking for students to keep track of their reading minutes (30 minutes minimum per day is the goal) and get parent signatures. This will be part of their ELA assessment and critical to their reading success. It’s also the major “homework” from me. I appreciate your support in this area!

Speaking of reading…if you’d like to order your children books, I’ll be distributing Scholastic fliers each month. Here is the link to my page so you can order online:

Classroom wish list: Kleenex, small prizes/candy for our “Friday Fishbowl” drawing to reward good behavior, post-it notes, new or gently-used books for our classroom library and chocolate, she said slyly ;). 

New this year in ELA: Words of the day (to adorn our classroom walls), learning log to keep track of victories and challenges, a few new class books, assessment on “learner qualities” (i.e. perseverance, homework, being prepared for class), the six “bees” of classroom behavior (be good, kind, positive, flexible, respectful, industrious), and our very beautiful, red, flowy, frilly Betta fish “Rhett.” 

Looking forward to seeing everyone at the open house in a couple of weeks!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Marching into April

It's beginning to feel a lot like spring...mud, mild breezes, and MEA testing ;). The middle school worked hard during testing week, and now we're back to the regular curriculum. Highlights below!

6th graders finished an independent reading unit and turned in a reading log as a final project. Entries included summaries, Common Core Standards and a focus on critical thinking. Students are now reading self-selected novels in small groups, talking about the books with rotating discussion leaders and completing weekly activities. I have really enjoyed listening in on some of these discussions! We're also learning about debate formats. Each student has his/her own role (opening speech, cross-examiner, rebuttal) in one of two class debates on homework and the inclusion of specials in the school curriculum.

 Katie, Jeremiah and Cody discussing Z Is For Zachariah

7th grade also completed an independent unit featuring book talks, journal entries and a review of the author's writing style and overall impact of the book. We just finished the classic To Kill A Mockingbird with a comprehensive test and an essay on characters changing as the plot progressed. Students also created Traveler’s Guides of the fictitious town of Maycomb. Class discussion was an important component of that novel...we talked about its parallel plot structure, setting, themes and characterization. As I told the class, Atticus Finch will always be one of my favorite book characters! We'll wrap up by watching the movie.

Porter, Dom and Zach explaining their Traveler's Guide

        Noelle, Audrey and Lydia explaining their Traveler's Guide

In 8th grade, we finished the incredibly powerful memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Yet again, students displayed great compassion and sensitivity in their discussions and written responses. To finish the unit, students addressed dehumanization and the literal/symbolic meanings of Night in a short essay and wrote a longer essay on how the book helped enable them to better understand the Holocaust via the author’s imagery and plotting of the book. We are all very excited about performing Beauty and the Beast Jr. in early June! The students naturally fell into their roles which made for very easy casting.

Other notes:
Recent middle school writing pieces have included five-paragraph informative essays, free choice narratives and argument pieces. One of my favorite lines from an 8th grader’s narrative: the blue of her eyes matched the chill of the stone bench. An example of some really nice peer feedback: “I felt like a lot happened in a short period of time...maybe if you developed the characters’ relationship more...”

Congratulations to John Fitzpatrick and Fallon Eggett for representing Veazie in the Penobscot County Spelling Bee earlier this month.

Happy spring to all!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

January/February update

How are we halfway through the second trimester? And without a single snow day?! Here’s the latest on what we’ve been up to in middle school ELA:

6th grade students did a great job on their 1960‘s slide show presentations as a follow-up to their research papers. Some children brought in props, including an Etch A Sketch, a cardboard model of an old TV with a tinfoil antenna and a cardboard model of one of the Vietnam weapons. One presentation on the Vietnam War featured the boys wearing helmets and a video playing CCR’s “Fortunate Son.” They enjoyed The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963. In addition to the research paper and slide show, activities for the unit included a customized car for the characters, written questions and class discussions throughout the book, and listening to excerpts from A Dream of Freedom, an informational picture book which chronicles the civil rights movement. An independent unit will follow the movie based on this book.


Left: Fallon & Olivia sharing toys of the 1960's.
Right: Free & Cody with a model of an old TV featuring a 1960's cartoon.

7th graders enjoyed experimenting with iMovie and making movie trailers for their independent books. They made Venn diagrams for The Outsiders which involved working in small groups to find symbolic magazine pictures for the Greasers and the Socs while listening to 60’s and 70’s music to set the tone :). The Outsiders is always a favorite, and we finished the unit with essay questions, watching the movie (a classic, although Francis Ford Coppola probably looks back on it and cringes) and writing a comparison of the two.

One of my favorite things about 8th grade is their compassion, which has been repeatedly showcased in discussions of read-alouds and class books. This was exemplified in reading To Be A Slave. Several students expressed how powerful this book was for them. One girl said she could almost feel what the slaves were feeling, and another student shared that even though she’d learned about slavery, this book made what they endured so real. Another boy repeatedly expressed his disbelief at how horribly they were treated. I was so proud and moved by the maturity and sensitivity of their comments in regards to this book. In addition to written responses, 8th graders also interpreted song lyrics about the African slave trade, wrote and shared aloud captions for the photographs in the book and created symbolic artwork to represent the themes of To Be A Slave.

7th and 8th graders took part in a Letters About Literature contest, where each student was asked to write to an author whose work had a profound impact on the student’s life. Entries are currently in the hands of the assessment team. State winners will be notified in late March/early April. Good luck to all participants!

All students have participated in several classroom spelling bees. Finalists, comprised of those who did well in these practice rounds and want to compete in the VCS middle school competition, are as follows:

    Grade 6 - Cody Dupuis, Fallon Eggett, Griffin Costello
    Grade 7 - Dom Needham, Zach Needham
    Grade 8 - Summer Richardson, Kaitlyn Baiarrio, John Fitzpatrick

The finalist and runner-up of the school competition will be eligible to compete in the Penobscot County spelling bee at Husson University in March. Congratulations to all, and good luck!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

November/December update...Happy Holidays!

As I write this, there is (finally) snow falling outside my classroom window, and there’s been a flurry of activity in ELA as well! Here’s some of what we’ve been up to: 

6th grade: Students presented book talks in the point of view of a character (video below). They are currently working on research papers about self-selected topics of the 1960’s: inventions, toys, games, Vietnam War, fashion, movies, TV shows, sports teams and music. Most students plan to work in pairs on these topics for slide show presentations (after vacation). They also made some very nice Christmas cards (photo below) to cheer up a young burn victim in New York City and completed an Elements of a Novel paper on their independent books in which they explored and critiqued the author’s setting, plot, characterization, point of view and theme. 

Cards for Safyre
                                                                                                      Justin giving his book talk! 

7th grade: There are some very impressive crests displayed on the hallway bulletin board (photo below) using symbolism to represent two main characters in The House of the Scorpion. We’re almost done our inquiry/nonfiction unit and recently had a great discussion on a news article regarding teen sleep - every single person participated voluntarily, which made it lively and fun. The major project for this unit was an inquiry paper, where students chose a question of interest to them that has more than one side, research the topic and come up with a conclusion based on the evidence. Inquiry topics included what is the best place to live in the U.S., the most effective consequences to deter crimes committed by juveniles, domestic vs. international terrorism, whether or not cursive writing is outdated. 

7th grade crests for 
The House of the Scorpion

8th grade: Author presentations have been the highlight for the past week...students wrapped up our author study unit by sharing with classmates their author’s bio, summaries and critiques of the books they read, coming dressed with some reference to the author or books, and (our fave) bringing in food connected with the books. Many thanks to parents who helped with the food - we enjoyed raspberries, ghost cookies, a Boston cream pie with bumblebees on the top, Turkish Delights and much more! 8th graders are in the midst of sharing their intertextuality pieces (studying an author’s style and consciously “borrowing” aspects of that style). Many of the stories are between 5-10 pages in length, and all stories have to be accompanied by a reflection piece detailing how the student writer borrowed from the author. Lots of great writing going on here! 

Sammy dressed as Jack Torrance from The Shining!

                                                      Sophie giving her author presentation as a book character
                                                                                    with a British accent :)

Other highlights:
•We’ve all been excited about the cardboard arcade the middle school is creating for the pre-K through 5 students. 
•We had a very cool Friday Freewrite a few weeks ago...I had students listen to music of their choice and asked them to write about what it made them think of. There were some nice stories and memories shared afterwards. One student said that a particular song reminded her of how she wasn’t going to let people bring her down anymore. My example was how hearing “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” reminded me of being in the Orono High School gym before football games, during the years the team was undefeated - ah, the memories! I love that so many of these kids appreciate the “good stuff” and 70’s-80’s music! 

Hoping my students and their families will receive books for gifts :). Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!