Note to Selfie

Kerry B MothRecently in a class, I was asked to download and use an app to create an annotated “selfie.” The justification came from a short YouTube video by Darren Kuropatwa which basically said that kids love to take selfies, so we should leverage that in the classroom. To me, that seemed sketchy. To introduce something in the classroom simply because it was a fun app that catered to students’ egocentric desires seemed disingenuous. I’m all for making class interesting and relevant to kids’ lives, but this seemed pointless. So quickly, I dismissed it.

And then… I saw one of my students’ blog. She was using annotated selfies in her writing. That picture of the of her looking at a moth in a mason jar at the top of this page is from a found poem response to a short story in Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, and the caption connects to the main idea of the story. This picture of her hanging upside down in a tree is from a response to a short excerpt from a memoir by Scott Carrier, and the caption announces an important quote from the story. Her very first writing of the year used a selfie to accent a reflection about the first week of school. All three of these examples are great, and I began to rethink my earlier judgments.

Kerry B 1963My first thought was that this was exactly the way these types of images should be used. Images should be used to enhance writing, and Common Core Literacy Standard 8.2a talks about using graphics to “aid comprehension.” Clearly, this student is doing that.

However, it later occurred to me that her pictures only work because they are amazing photographs. They’re visually interesting, from the colors, to the lighting, to the unusual angles. I’m not sure any run-of-the-mill photo would work, and I’m certain that if I tried to make pointed suggestions (or dare I say teach) how to put in the “right” kind of images, they wouldn’t be as effective. This student’s work was creative, but more importantly, organic.

I’m not sure what the right balance or approach is here. Maybe it involves collaborating with an art teacher, or maybe it’s something as simple as making sure this student’s work is exposed to the rest of her peers and held up as an example of using images well. Either way (or somewhere in between), it’s a question that I’ll write down on a note card and pin to the wall behind my computer as a reminder to follow up in the future – a note to selfie, as it were.

A Year Three BYOD Update

wpid-IMG_20130821_084858.024.jpgOur BYOD initiative is in its third year here at Parker, and while in previous years, it has been slow for students to begin using their devices regularly, this year has been different. Already, students are accessing the Internet, photographing whiteboards, and adding agenda items and reminders to their electronic calendars. I have to say, that I think the rest of the year looks promising with regard to BYOD.

There are at least two main reasons I can attribute to the smooth start. First, our district administrators streamlined the process for students accessing the network. Whereas in the past, students had to register their device’s MAC address with the district and then wait for their requests to processed, this year all students who returned the network user agreement are granted nearly immediate access

Furthermore, any student who was part of the BYOD program last year could automatically access the network from day one. This has enabled many students, who have been frustrated with the program in the past, to start off on a good foot.

Additionally, students are growing more comfortable using the devices to assist in their day to day organization at school. It is now quite common to see student taking photos of homework boards and classroom notes. Nearly all of the kids use their school email proficiently, and when I’ve suggested the add it to their devices, there is little hesitation.

Now, this week, as we’ve begun to access the blogs, more students than ever are downloading a WordPress app and using their devices for writing. More importantly, this is happening in September, nearly four months earlier than in years past.

I can only imagine that as the years go by, our BYOD participation will continue to increase, and students will become more productive and organized than ever.

I’d Rather Not Watch Dance Moms, Thank You Very Much

It’s Day 9 of the new school year, and we’re already off and running. We’ve posted our first piece of writing of the year on our blogs, and you can be sure that there will be many more to come. Therefore, I think it’s time to think about your audience a little. Yes, I know it might come as a shock, but people actually read what you write, and surprisingly (not), they want to be entertained. I’ve said it myself in class, even. There’s no way I want to read 100 versions of the same thing. (For you math folks, that’s 300-400 paragraphs each assignment or about 40,000 words). Yeah, you can imagine how I might easily want to do something else, like watch Dance Moms.

Take a look at these two articles below. They talk about making good impressions and writing for your audience.

I hope these are helpful as you continue through the year and beyond.

Our Technology Pals

When I think about how I spend my days, I inevitably think about something to do with technology. Whether it’s checking email on my phone, connecting with other teachers on Twitter, or simply watching television, rarely is there a long stretch of the day in which technology is not a part of it. Reflecting now, I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. It just is what it is.

I’m curious to know how students use technology during their days. How often are you accessing some kind of electronic technology or media? What kinds of things are you using and reading (please only “school-appropriate” technology)? Can you imagine if it were eliminated from your life?

In a brief response to this post, identify the three or four websites, apps, or other media that you use during a given week. (If you don’t use a computer that much, think about other specific media that you access – tv shows, radio, books, etc.) Be sure to describe it as well. For instance, I have heard of Facebook, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Finally, tell what you think these items say about who you are.

Blogging and Electronic Portfolios

For the past two years, we’ve been running student-led conferences at our Open House night in May, and one of the reasons it’s been so successful is because of our use of Edublogs in the classroom. Students are able to easily scroll through their entire body of work for the year and easily make decisions on what to include in a representative portfolio. The blogging platform essentially works as their own electronic portfolio where nothing ever gets lost, is kept in chronological order, and is easily searchable through tags and keywords.

Here are a few samples:

Blogs have also been an important way of keeping a journal of an activity, event, or in these cases, a field trip. Teachers and students both contributed to these two blogs while on their trips to record their travels and provide updates to parents at home. Updates were made through both laptop and mobile devices.

 Blogs work when they facillitate students’ reflections and opinions. They allow for community response and they invite discussion. The blogs we use with students are open to the entire world to view, and at times we encourage feedback from people outside of our school community. And, while this works for us, it may not be for everyone. Another option might be a classroom Ning, which supports the idea of blogs within a closed community. Or, for an even tighter circle, you might opt to use Google Documents to publish online. Below is a good resources to help manage student work completed through Google Docs.

Google Docs X Organizing and Promoting the Writing Process by Greg Kulowiec – Plymouth High School





Comics for Class

I tried out Pixton this year, hoping for a new tool to help students publish work. And, so far, so good. I was able to easily make a 7-panel comic strip with backgrounds and dialogue in a reasonably short amount of time. It certainly was much easier than drawing, and definitely quicker.

With my trial attempt, I created a comic for as part of a parent contribution for my 2nd-grader’s class. Certainly, the pictures weren’t exactly what I was looking for, but there was enough that I could work with to come close to what I had in mind originally. I was able to manipulate the sizes and the backgrounds, and it was no problem adding in words. Because I was using a free version, publishing became a little tricky, but a screenshot and some tinkering in MS Paint allowed me to change the comic to a .jpeg for embedding into the blog.

Students found it just as easy to use when they made “iconoclast” comics for a unit on rebellion. One said that it definitely looked way better than he would ever be able to draw it. Everybody found it easy to use, and no one had any difficulty embedding their comics to the blogs.

I’ll be sure to tuck this application away for next year.

We Learn That Mrs. Dodds is Real

When the call came in at 5:30 pm that Rick Riordan had landed and was directly on his way to the Burlington Barnes and Noble, I don’t think anyone believed that he’d make it on time. The adults all exchanged sideways glances and chuckled. After all, it was Friday night at rush hour at the start of Columbus Day weekend. Nobody, not even the Son of Neptune, would be able to escape the traffic leading out of the greater Boston area. Still, nobody seemed to mind – not the 2000+ people waiting outside for a chance at an autographed copy of his new book, and certainly not the fifty or so Parker Middle School students who were lucky enough to score some Q&A time with Rick Riordan, one of most popular authors in the world.

Surrounded by their carefully created essays and posters, including award winners Samantha S. and Ryan M., the students sat patiently for nearly two hours waiting for their private session with Rick Riordan. They talked trivia, traded pens and pins handed out by the generous Barnes and Noble staff, and prepared their copies of the latest Percy Jackson book for signing. When he finally arrived, the entire store broke into cheers and applause.

For the next half an hour, Rick Riordan did not disappoint. He gracefully answered questions from all the students who were willing to ask, revealing insights into his writing process and tidbits about both the Percy Jackson series and the Kane Chronicles. Afterwards, each student (and perhaps one lucky teacher) had up to two books autographed.

Back outside in the bright moonlight and the warm October air, we walked back to our cars by the the horde of people standing in a long line that snaked back and forth on the side of the bookstore. Some had traveled as far away as New Jersey and had been cued up for over twelve hours. And, while they were all sure to get in an get their own autographed copy of The Son of Neptune, thanks to our librarian, Mrs. Ferrazzani and Dee Mandolese, the Communty Relations Manager and Barnes and Noble, we were the lucky ones.


First Impressions

Hanging the last of the posters, I thought to myself that maybe it was a mistake. The black and red lettering mocked me in a way that I understood, but others who had no idea what we’d been doing in class would not — specifically, all of the parents eager to come to Back to School night to size up their 8th grade children’s current lot of teachers. The “Down with Olivo!” and “Mr. Olivo Poisons Our Minds” slogans probably weren’t going to instill a lot of confidence in those looking forward to meeting their son or daughter’s new English teacher. Be that as it may, I had promised the students that that I’d put them up, and I couldn’t shy away from an important classroom activity.

The da-zi-bao that students created were in response to a chapter from Red Scarf Girl, by this year’s visiting author Ji-li Jiang. In the story Ji-li is confronted with the dilemma of creating these posters meant to condemn her teachers and the entire educational system, even though she feels grateful for all that school has allowed her to achieve. She wants to follow her students’ and her country’s revolutionary actions, but she is reluctant to humiliate anyone.

Students worked through the activity with great zeal and fervor, once they got over the fact that they wouldn’t get in trouble. Later, they wrote about the experience. Below are some samples of their work.



A Year of Infinite Possibilities

Wednesday afternoon I had felt a little pit in my stomach, and not just because the Red Sox were squandering another late inning lead. I was worried what my students would be writing about. In class, in response to a chapter from Ji-li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl, I left them with a quote about doubting your dreams, and I had asked them to write a text-to-self response.

I was worried because I wasn’t sure the students were brave enough (or aware enough) to stand up and say that the idea of giving up on a future of “infinite possibilities” was rubbish. Instead, I imagined that everyone would parrot the feelings of the character in the book at that time – that the students would simply agree with Ji-li’s comment because “the teacher put it out there and clearly he must want us to agree with it because why would he ask such a leading question if he didn’t.”

To my relief (and surprise – after all it is only Day 9), the majority of students wrote honestly and thoughtfully. They didn’t get lured into the trap, but instead acknowledged the character’s situation and then wrote truthfully from their own perspective. Sure, not everyone rejected the idea that there are limits to what is possible in life, but those who did chose their point of view because of strong reasons, not because it “must have been what the teacher wanted to hear.”

For me, it was a good lesson about how students will always rise to a challenge, and that writing will always follow a path of infiite possiblities if you allow it. It was a good reminder that the only thing to really worry about in the fall is a September Swoon by the Red Sox.

Below are a few of writings from this assignment:

Words That Connect

With the 10th anniversary of September 11th this weekend, it was suggested that we take some time to talk to students about the event and what it might mean to people a decade later. It seemed especially important to do prior to this Sunday because many of this year’s eighth graders, who were only three or four in 2001, cannot remember the events of that day and don’t feel as strong a connection to them as those of us who do remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that sunny Tuesday morning.

September 11th - Then

In our class we started with a quick freewrite of what we remember, and then I asked students to write down one word that summed up the entirety of their feelings from that day. Some wrote words like nervous, sad and scared, while others wrote unaware or oblivious. Then, after a quick discussion, we watched Nickelodeon’s 9/11 special hosted by Linda Ellerbee. The 20 minute video did its best to explain the facts of the day and to address lingering questions that today’s tweens might have.

Once we finished, I fielded a few other questions and acknowledged a few comments from the students. Then, I asked everyone to think about their feelings about the events today, ten years after. Again, I encouraged them to sum up their feelings in one word.

September 11th - Now

With both words written down on paper, I directed the students to a fascinating project at the National Public Radio website called “Sept. 11 Then and Now, In One Word.” There students were able to input their two words into the site and see the connections between their feelings and the emotions of others across the country. It’s comforting to know that others feel the same as we do in tough times – that we’re not alone with our feelings, and I guess this is one of the main points of the project. With a visual representation, students were able to see and grasp that idea much more easily than if I were to just tell them.

Two Simple Rules

They tell us that good teaching begins with clear objectives — that students should know before they even set out on a task what the end product should look like and the steps to get there. Now, while that may often be a good way to achieve success, it may not be such a good way to achieve great writing. Sometimes a writing formula leads only to formulaic writing.

In Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, Anne writes about the importance of keeping your readers’ attention. She suggests two rules by which every writer should live. Be interested in your topic, and respect your readers. Too often when students write for school, they are just going through the motions. Now, granted, some topics teachers assign are less interesting than others, but a great piece of writing overcomes this. The writer finds an angle or a personal connection that sparks his or her interest. And, once that flame is kindled, the entire piece lights up. “If you love what you’re doing,” Anne writes, “you’ve made one person happy. And that’s already an accomplishment.” (p. 195)

She also writes about how quickly an audience can spot when you haven’t put in your best effort. “If you tell a story that they’ve heard a thousand times before, or dash off something sloppy, they’ll definitely notice.” (p. 195) I’d say that goes for the teacher as well. We know when students rush through an assignment, and frankly, most of the time we’re too polite to say something. But, honestly, when I sit down to read 100 essays, nothing makes my job better than reading the work of a student who has thoughtfully crafted a unique and passionate point of view.

It’s sometimes not a rubric or a formula that will help you write better. Sometimes following these two simple rules — being honest with your audience and entertaining yourself — is the best thing you can do as a writer.

Summer Reading for Everyone

Summer reading should be enjoyable. It should be something that you look forward to when you wake up in the morning or a reason for going to the beach. It should make that long car ride to Lake Winnipesaukee bearable. And, when you come back to school, it should be something to forward to talking about — not something to dread.

For the second year in a row, we arranged our discussions of the summer reading like book groups, matching up students who read the same book with an 8th grade teacher who had also read the same book and could facilitate a conversation. For an English teacher this is great. Who better to discuss the issue of cloning in The House of the Scorpion than the science teacher?

Better yet, allowing other subject area teachers to host a “book group” symbolically shows that reading is not just important in English class, but across all disciplines. Additionally, as a beginning of the year activity, it helps teachers and students make connections with each other that with hope they can build on throughout the year.

The Value of Reflection

For my son, a first grader, mid-year means getting ready for the annual 100 Day Celebration. This year he had to find 100 pieces of the same item, put them in a freezer bag, and take it all to school for some secret, no doubt nefarious, experiments. He chose packing peanuts.

For us, in our little language arts class, mid-year means looking back on all of our writing throughout the year and handing out awards for the best and worst efforts. Last year I specified the categories for everyone (Best Grabber, Best Idea, Worst Comparison, etc.), but this year I let everyone design their own categories. And, while some people picked out some pretty standard awards for their efforts, others got quite creative.

  • Piece That I Learned the Most From Sarah Z.
  • Most Philosophical Essay Peter S.
  • Most Procrastinated Ada L.
  • The Piece That Makes Me Cringe the Most to Look Back On – Alyssa B.
  • Deepest Piece of Writing Mary Kate O.
  • The One That Was Hardest to PostKyra C.

Aside from being a fun activity about blogging and linking, the real value of this exercise is that it allows students to revisit their work (from what now seems like a long time ago), and reflect on how they’ve grown, when they’ve felt successful, and why some pieces have fallen short of expectations. Often there is great honesty in a student’s reflection, and what is always fascinating to me is that the reasons for both success and failure in writing are almost always consistent from student to student.

Looking back through your work and the reflections of others, what commonalities can you notice about what people say made their work successful or unsuccessful?

Introducing…The Reader’s Chair

Readers Chair - Van GoghA component of my class that always has been lacking in the past has been independent reading. Sure, I know what the research says — that students who read frequently have better vocabulary and comprehension, that they are better at spelling and grammar, that they have better background knowledge. Yet, providing space for independent reading in my curriculum was never a priority and finding a way to structure it was always a bit frustrating. This past summer, however, I vowed to make an independent reading program work for me in my class. Presenting, “The Reader’s Chair.”

The goals of the program were simple. Get everyone to read at least one book a month, and provide an opportunity for each student to present. Ideally, the presentations were to be like book talks, in which the students would come up, sit in a special chair (The Reader’s Chair), and each would include some particular literary element that we were studying. During the presentations, students would be asked to read a particularly important or meaningful passage.

In October, when we started the first round of Reader’s Chair booktalks, they weren’t inspiring. Although many students did a great job preparing their speeches, selecting passages, and presenting, ultimately they seemed to interrupt the flow of the class. And, they dragged on. After Day 20 of another Reader’s Chair performance, it was getting old quickly.

Technology solved a lot of the problem. With an iPod lab, Flip cameras, and an a/v recordable document camera, there was no reason, I thought, why we couldn’t take just one or two days to record all of the presentations at once, post them to the students’ individual blogs, and give them time to review each other’s  presentations at home. I could still have students read from their books, focus on important literary elements, and demonstrate an understanding of the books all within a much smaller time window. Additionally, all the students could be presenting at once instead of staggering the presentations over the course of a month.


It’s the blogs that especially make these types of projects work. Without the ability for students to upload their presentations to their blogs, they’d working only for the benefit of themselves and me. However, by being able to let their classmates, friends, and family members in on their presentations, these projects become closer to their original intentions — a showcase that demonstrates their understanding, and a booktalk that might get someone else to pick up the same book.


Image: Van Gogh “Gauguin’s Chair with Books and Candle”

Rewriting History?

It’s not often when literature grabs attention in the daily news cycle, but when it does, it’s usually for controversial reasons. Such is the case of this week’s entries into the national spotlight — Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Huckleberry_Finn_bookIt was announced that a new version of the two books will soon be published that substitutes some of its more outdated and offensive words with ones that are more palatable to audiences, especially teachers and students, who want to read the books without having to endure the “n-word” repeatedly.

Some claim that replacing these words makes the book more accessible and more likely to be taught in schools, but others claim that this is blatant censorship and the historical context will be lost without these words.

In light of our current study of the Harlem Renaissance, where often outdated language and hurtful words are used, I’d like to hear what you think. Read a more detailed article from the USA Today and leave a comment that sums up your opinion.

Muggles Are Still Invited

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stoneI was still a new teacher when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out and passed me by. I was still struggling to invent lessons, figure out grading systems, and adjust to the rhythms of maintaining a classroom. It wasn’t until the summer of 2000 when The Goblet of Fire came out that I finally sat down to read the series. By then Harry Potter mania was in full swing.

It’s nice to see that after nearly a decade and a half, students are still enamoured with these books. Now, with so many choices that students have to get caught up in a book series (Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Ranger’s Apprentice, etc.), you’d think that kids would’ve forgotten about Harry. Certainly, the movies have helped, but I’m finding that in my classroom, many students are still caught up in the magic of these books.

To help learn and remember their list of vocabulary words, Alyssa and Sarah came up with Harry Potter references for each of the 25 words — quick little phrases like “all of the little spiders are spawnof Aragog.” Very cool.

In an assigment where students listed three books that they’d like to read next, Mary Kate announced that she was finishing up The Order of the Phoenix and was moving on to The Half-Blood Prince.

For her “list post,” Emily wrote “A Muggles Guide to Harry Potter” in which she outlined each of the important characters of the series. She also managed to fit in some of our particularly pernicious vocabulary words. She also referred to the books when she wrote a piece called “That’s Wicked” about how Harry Potter has inspired her to travel to England some day.

I’d like to think that a decade from now these books will still be popular. Perhaps, all the kids who have the Harry Potter books on their shelves will hold on to them like little treasures, and periodically browse through them. In my home, the books are waiting for my son who is just beginning to read on his own. I’ve resisted reading them to him because I think there are some things that kids just need to discover on their own. I want him to make friends with Harry just like we all did.

Ding! Active Viewing

AVER0002For some time now, I’ve been bugging Mr. James, our other 8th grade language arts teacher, with all sorts of crazy schemes to collaborate together. Aside from being a whole lot of fun, as teachers, we both have different skill sets and being able to expose students to each, I think, would ultimately help give them more opportunities to access and connect to the curriculum. More than that, though, I think it’s important to model collaboration to the students and to show them that teachers do not work in isolation. By chance last week, we were able to work out an activity that we could do together.

As a follow-up to Amy Tan’s “The Rules of the Game” from The Joy Luck Club, we like to show students the film Searching for Bobby Fischer. The literary connections are strikingly similar, and it’s an enjoyable film that most students have never seen. The problem this year was that we wanted to show the film at the same time, and we only had one copy. The solution suddenly became so obvious. Get the classes together in the same room and co-teach.

There’s always a little hesitation when you begin to work with someone. You don’t want to step on any toes. You don’t want to dominate a discussion, and at the same time, you don’t want someone else to do all the heavy lifting during class. Mr. James and I were a little tenative at first, but it soon became apparant that working together in front of forty-five or so students would come pretty naturally. We took turns introducing different parts, highlighting important and symbolic moments, addressing and asking questions, and responding to our handout of viewing questions.

For me the best part came during the actual viewing of the film. One of the biggest obstacles when watching a movie (or even reading a text, for that matter) is knowing when to interrupt the rhythm of the narrative to point out or discuss something important. It’s important to read or watch actively, but not so much that you take the joy away from watching the plot unfold.

Our solution came in the form of handmade signs and a bell. As important thematic and symbolic moments arose in the film we held up signs around the room and rang a bell to catch the students attention. Some signs had words like “Symbolism,” “Theme,” “Conflict.” Other signs had quotes from “The Rules of the Game” in order to highlight comparative moments. Often times, because Mr. James and I were in different parts of the room, we held up signs at different times or different signs at the same time. At the end of class, we would talk about why we held up certain signs when we did and why those moments were significant.  It led to a deeper and richer discussion about the film, and one in which we were able to effortlessly trade off asking questions, responding to students, and building on each other’s points.

There was also an unintended consequence of collaborating. As Mr. James and I spent more time together watching the same clips for each class, we began to see the film differently – more deeply. And, often times we would cross the room to have quiet conversations about what we were noticing. Students saw this, and no doubt they saw us getting more excited about discovering the deeper layers. It served to model how to actively watch and discuss a film, which is ultimately what we wanted the students to be doing all along.

Personally, I can’t wait to work together again.

Wordmasters – In Plain English

With half of our students away in Quebec, yesterday was an opportunity to try something a little bit different. I’ve been looking to make Common Craft style videos with students for a while now ever since I saw Greg Kulowiec try it with his students at Plymouth High School. I’ve also been thinking of ways to bring some life into our Wordmasters units this year because, as students will tell you, studying vocabulary lists and working out analogies can be deadly. Friday, we were able to marry the two.

These simple, but effective videos are a great way for students to create a context for their vocabulary words where essentially none exists. In order to create a two minute video, students need to understand how the words work and use them in a way that helps illustrate the meaning. The Common Craft style is well suited for this – simple line drawings and cut-outs that are manipulated to help explain an idea (or in this case a word).

The final products are pretty good granted that it was our first attempt and students really had only about an hour to plan, write, and create. It took them only about fifteen minutes to film once they had finished their scripts and practiced a few time. We used Flip cameras mostly, but some of the better-shot videos came from my new AverVision document camera which records both video and audio (thanks, RTEF!).

I can’t wait to try this again, and I suspect with a little more preparation and practice, students will start creating some really unbelieveable stuff. The rest of the videos have been uploades to my YouTube channel. You should take a look.

Taking Us Through The Maze Runner

Two weeks ago I received a surprise email from our librarian, Mrs. Ferrazanni, announcing that if we wanted, we could have a YA author James Dashner come speak to our students. I thought for a moment… A chance for students to speak to a published author. Students could hear about the writing process for real. An opportunity to get excited about books. The possibility to connect to our memoir writing activities.

It only took a moment. “Sign me up!” I declared.

The Maze RunnerJames Dashner published The Maze Runner last year, and is currently out promoting the second book in the series, The Scorch Trials. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I had heard of it. However, it had recently hit the NY Times bestseller list, and had collected many positive reviews. Many described it as a sci-fi dystopian novel in the same genre as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, which my students have been devouring. Admittedly, in his presentation, Mr. Dashner said that the book only “took off” once Random House started promoting it to latch on to the success of The Hunger Games.

Most of his presentation was about promoting his books and describing the journey from a 9am-5pm accountant to his current to a current best-selling author. Along the way Dashner offered advice for students who love to write and for others who have big dreams. He engaged the students and drove home the message to “never give up.” During Q & A, students asked many of the usual questions, though a few asked specifically about the revision process. He offered to answer some follow-ups on Twitter later, which I took advantage of by asking a question that students had about writer’s block. Kindly, he answered quickly.

JamesDashner TweetIn recent days, more than a few students have picked up The Maze Runner, and many more have begged me to make it the next read-aloud in class. I read it last week, and it was a lot of fun – dark, scary dystopian fun – but something I think that most kids will enjoy.

Symbols in Medieval Times

It’s nice when a field trip for another subject actually turns out to have a lot of connections to language arts. Yesterday, we went to the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester to learn about knights and Medieval times for our social studies class, but we were also able to connect to our study of symbolism in memoirs and our future reading of Romeo and Juliet. Students learned how symbols (something concrete that represents something abstract) on shields were used to represent people and families, and we also learned how specific colors and images represented specific values and virtues.

Take a look:

Locked In

We knew the lockdown drill was coming and we were prepared. Three of us were to pull the shades closed, and one student was to put the green “all clear” sign in the window. I was to lock the door, shut off the lights, and open the closet door so as to keep us out of sight of the window to the hallway. Everyone else was to quickly huddle in the corner of the room on the floor. I made sure that we’d choreographed this before the announcement because if there’d been any confusion”, we’d never finish the last chapter of the book before school let out for the weekend.

“But Mr. Olivo, how will you read in the dark?” one girl asked. I slyly reached out and triumphantly held up the flashlight I had strategically arranged on my desk. Chuckles and giggles.

everysoulastarFor the past few weeks we’ve been reading Every Soul a Star, by Wendy Mass. When I first picked it up last March, I knew it would be a winner in the classroom. Told in alternating narratives, it’s a story about three teenagers, three “unlikely friends,” who are drawn together by circumstance to witness a total solar eclipse. And, while the event itself is central to the plot, it’s each character’s search for identity in themselves and each other that’s the real focus of the story.

As a read-aloud, this book was perfect. Students found something familiar about each character, and many look forward to the day when the chapter was told from their favorite’s point of view. The ideas and conflicts in the book were tangible to the students and I could feel them rapt to the more poignant scenes. Additionally, the details and discussions about space and solar eclipses were a perfect compliment to the astronomy unit the students were learning about in their science class.

About twenty minutes into the period, the announcement came. “This is Principal Lyons. Teachers please lock down your classrooms.”

We quietly went into motion and moved into position, and in less than a minute, twenty-three of us were huddled on the floor in the corner of the room reading a story by flashlight. Honestly, it could have been a real lockdown, a real emergency, and we would have all still been lost in the final chapters of the book – like we were reading under our covers after Mom and Dad had told us to shut off the light and go to bed.

Fifteen minutes later, when the loudspeaker announced to resume our normal activity, we all stayed in the dark, reading by dim glow of the flashlight, until the last page was turned.

Writing Quality Comments

I came across this video early this morning while getting ready to start the day. It’s a short presentation on effective commenting from Mrs. Yollis’ third grade classroom in California, and since we’ve spent a lot of time writing comments on each others’ writing, I thought it might be really useful to have some more specific guidelines for when you give feedback.

Thinking About Memoir

For some of us who are a little bit older, it’s often easy to look back and find those hallmark moments in our lives where we learned something new about ourselves, or discovered some revelation about the way the world works, or had a moment where everything changed. We can do this because we have the luxury of time and perspective. For the average 8th grader, being reflective about the last decade is a little harder.

 We’ve spent the last week thinking about memoir – reading some short stories and writing our own. We’ve talked about what it means to apply great importance to moments that others might see as average or insignificant, and we’ve discussed the idea of symbolism and poignancy in our lives. Reading short stories by the likes of Scott Carrier, Annie Dillard, and David Sedaris, has helped put all of this into context, and when we step back and look at what all of these examples of memoir have in common, it helps us to craft our own.

I walked by Mr. James’ classroom the other day, and his students had listed all they had noticed about memoir on his whiteboard – a cluttered jumble of notes and observations, but evidence of a valuable activity that helps to put the idea of writing memoir into tangible terms.



Voices Be Heard

Since we began using student blogs last year, one thing has been very clear. Students love the opportunity to read their classmates’ work, and more importantly, they love having their friends read what they’ve written. It’s hard to describe the buzz that starts filling the room when somebody discovers something really great on somebody’s blog and gets everyone to read it. “You have to read this!” they exclaim in a loud whisper, and soon suddenly there’s mad rush of clicking and typing as everyone rushes over to the site.

Because of this, and because of the value that comes from students seeing quality work and a variety of perspective, I’ve committed more energy in building activities that allow students to visit each others’ sites and read each others’ work. Yesterday’s was a structured activity in which students read up to five different authors, commented on their favorite post from each site, and emailed me the titles of the two best pieces. And, it was nice to see that a wide, wide variety of titles started showing up in my inbox – in part because of guidelines on whom the students were able to read, and in part because everyone has been writing really good stuff.

Below are some standouts from each class – students and titles that were mentioned several times as favorites:

Edublogs Challenge & Avatars

MyHero - OlivoTwice a year Edublogs hosts “Challenge Yourself to Blog,” an event that teaches students and classrooms how to become better bloggers. The series of ten activities, or challenges, includes things like setting up your page, learning to comment, becoming a better online writer, to name a few. The challenge began last week, and already there is a whole flurry of activity as the students, teachers, and classrooms who have signed up have begun showing off their skills.

I want to follow this fall’s activity closely before I think about asking my students to participate, but already I’m seeing a lot of value in the challenges that have been offered so far. Last week was about changing the theme (something we did in class), and making introductions to the Edublogs community. This week’s challenge is about creating avatars (something Mr. Musselman did in class), and if you go out to the site, you’ll see many, many great resources for building an avatar for yourself.

Personally, I like The Hero Factory.

I’ve added a link to the site so that you can follow along too, and if you want (read: ask permission), you too can sign up for the challenge yourself. I’m sure a lot of the activities will overlap with some of the things we’ll be doing in class.

Subversive Book Talks

Read More BooksDespite our best efforts, some things never go exactly as planned. Most of the time this means that it has gone poorly — like when the laptops refuse to connect to the network, or when a discussion falls flat because only a third of the class completed the reading.  However, today was one of those surprising days when the classroom activity netted an unintended outcome — and a good one at that.

We’ve spent the last few days discussing the need to write with a purpose and a strong point of view. Over the weekend when students were asked to write about their independent reading novel, many, if not most, simply provided a summary. And while a summary can be good at times, in this case, I was hoping for something more…interesting. So, we worked on brainstorming more interesting ideas and topics. Yesterday, as a class, we discussed and built a list of writing ideas for our read-aloud, Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, and today we repeated the activity with their own independent reading books.

This time everyone came up with great ideas – the role of family, individuality, the difficulty in making and keeping friends, etc. To further the activity, I had students pair up and discuss the topics orally with a partner. First one student would select an idea from his or her list and talk about it in the context of the book and then in the context of real life. After about a minute, they would switch, and they would continue back and forth for the next ten minutes or so. Then, we would switch up the partners, add a new discussion element, and repeat the activity.

Everyone got it, and by the end of class, they knew that the topics that were able to be discussed more easily were richer, deeper, and more interesting to their partners.

But here’s the unintended outcome. For about twenty minutes today, students were talking about their books, and mind you, they were doing it seriously. It wasn’t just a summary of the plot, but they were discussing the more meaningful elements like character and theme. It was everything that a book discussion should be.

And I suspect if I had told them from the beginning that we were going to talk about their books for a good portion of class, it would not had gone as planned.

Picture via Flickr

A Good First Impression

Title WordleMany of my past students will tell you that I am maniacal about making sure the finished work looks polished. It drives me absolutely crazy to receive a perfectly good piece of work, that clearly has had a lot of time and effort put into it, with a big crease down the middle because it’s been folded in put into a notebook. Equally bad are crumpled corners and edges because it’s been hanging out of a book.; a handwritten name on an otherwise beautifully typed essay; an absurdly huge font, or spacing that squishes all the writing together and leaves a big, blank white space at the bottom.

These things just leave me with a bad impression — like saying, “Here’s your dumb assignment that I finished as quickly as I could so that I could go and do better things with my time.” Sigh…Is that too harsh? It’s kinda how I feel sometimes.

Along those same lines is the titles that students stick onto their work. They too should make a good impression. No one wants to pick up an piece of work that has the title, “English Essay” or “Book Response” or “That English Thingy.” Instead, a title should reach down into the soul of your writing and show me, or any other reader, that “Yes, indeed, this is my best work.”

This week we spent time in class talking about what makes both good and bad titles. After acknowledging that the whole concept of a “creative and interesting” title is vague, we were able to come up with a few guidelines that could help.

  • Nothing Too Simple – Many people recognized that the first thing they think of is probably not the best choice. More likely, it’s the obvious choice that everyone else has though of too.
  • Create Possibility – The title should be one that hints of the topic or the main idea, but not necessarily give everything away. If the whole point of the writing can be figured out from the title, then what’s the point of reading any further? A title should leave open the possibility that writing can go in any number of different directions.
  • Think Symbolically or Ironically – Often that simile or metaphor that you’re trying to use to make your point can lead to a good title. Along the same line, perhaps a play on words or a familiar phrase can lead to great title.
  • Save It For The End – There is absolutely no reason why the title has to be the first thing you write. In fact, it may just lead you down the path to writer’s block. Instead, wait until the end, after you’ve created those perfect comparisons, and after you’ve discovered what you’re really trying to say.

I think the Wordle at the top of the page says it all. In an assignment to write about the beginning of this school year, nearly a quarter of the students chose a title with the words First, Day, and School. Another fifteen percent chose the words Beginning, 8th, and Grade.

Think about it.

And So It Begins

On Tuesday, when President Obama addressed students from all across the nation, he acknowledged many of the fears and concerns that come with starting a new year of school. He said, “it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.”

That same night, our students went home and wrote their first blog post about the exact same thing – the start of school. Here are some, with great titles, that capture those feelings.

Books and Beyond

monsoonsummerOf the many activities and programs that the Reading Public Schools offers, one of the most underrated is our Visiting Author Program. Each year a quality author comes to speak to students about their experiences as a writer and as a published author. One of the best we’ve had was Mitali Perkins who came four years ago. So, I was particularly excited to hear that our “Books and Beyond” group announced her book, Monsoon Summer, as their first selection of the year.

Monsoon Summer as well as another of Mitali Perkins’s popular books, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, are great books which also provide insight and education into Indian culture. And, both deal with many ideas that middle school students can identify with.

What’s particularly exciting this year is that “Books and Beyond” is providing an online component by hosting a blog. Now, students who haven’t been able to attend the meetings before school (or have been apprehensive about joining a book club) can participate in the discussions on their own. Simply follow the blog and comment as you read the books.

Images from

Book Groups…Not Just for English Teachers

Flower ButterflyWhile for most of the students, yesterday seemed like an average day, for our team of 8th grade teachers, it was quite a milestone day. During our Flex block, each teacher on the team, along with the Librarian, hosted book discussions with small groups of students on one of the assigned summer reading books. And, why was this special? Because the idea of content teachers taking on something like a literature discusion, that is so clearly in the ELA realm, rarely happens.

The idea was dropped casually at a language arts meeting last spring by our reading specialist, and I immediately picked it up and ran with it. Having each teacher on the team host a book discussion not only validates the summer reading program, not only promotes the idea that reading is important, and not only demonstrates that we teachers belong to a culture of readers, but it shows to the students that we are a collaborative group that works together and shares the same values about literacy, our subject matter, and learning. And, because I knew this last spring, I knew each one of the six of us would be on board with this idea even before I pitched it.

The idea was simple. Assign each teacher one of the summer reading books, which he or she would read and then develop some open ended discussion questions. Next, when the students return to school, figure out which books they read, and assign them to their respective book group. With very little shuffling our groups ended up between 10 and 16 students. Finally, students were sent off to their book hosts, and the teacher conducted a structured discussion that lasts for 30 minutes or so.

The result was a seemless activity that occurred across the team and across the subject areas – a shared experience for both the students and the teachers, yet at the same time very unique and individual from group to group. I have to thank my fellow teachers because it was fantastic to start this year off with such collaborative energy. Of course for the students, I’m sure it was just another day.

Image via Pics4Learning

Interviews, Part 2

Coffee Pen PaperThis is Part 2 in a short series on writing an interview essay. The information on this page was gleaned from several students in class (Allie, Ada, Peter, Kate, Diana, Alyssa, Sarah, and Katy D.) who helped find some tips and suggestions for conducting and writing interviews. Below is a compilation of their notes and their website sources are listed on the previous post)

Asking questions is really the easy part of an interview. With hope, good questions will lead to good answers, and you will have a lot of facts and stories to draw from when you sit down to write your interview essay. That’s the hard part…the writing.

This is where being patient, active, and observant pays off. If you’re lucky, the story will leap up at you and you’ll have no trouble at all. More than likely, however, you’ll need to lure the story out by connecting your subjects personality and background to his or her experiences and accomplishments.

Still, if you don’t know where to begin, try these tips:

  • Anecdotes: Begin the introduction with a funny story about the person or something interesting about them that will grab the reader’s attention.
  • Put Things in Order…The written interview should flow in a logical order so readers can follow it without getting confused in the details of the interviewee’s life. Try to keep a chronological order to events and facts if possible.
  • Include Quotes…but breaking some quotes up can help some of the interviewee’s answers flow into your piece more easily. Also, edit out rambling words that the interviewee might have answered you with in your written interview.

Above all, remember that you are trying to show your reader what the person you interviewed is like and how that person is unique.

Image via Flickr

Interviews, Part 1

091104-A-0193C-011This week we’ll be starting interviews in class. In preparation for this, some of our classmates (Allie, Ada, Peter, Kate, Diana, Alyssa, Sarah, and Katy D.) helped find some tips and suggestions for conducting and writing interviews. Below is a compilation of their notes and some suggested sites to find more information.

Writing & Asking Questions:

  • Make sure your questions can be open-ended, questions that aren’t just “yes” or “no”. You will get better answers.
  • Word questions clearly and ask questions one at a time.
  • Have a list of questions but don’t follow them so closely you don’t think about the answers.
  • Record answers you get for your interview, don’t rely on memory. Take notes on what the other person is saying. Write down key words and ideas.

During Your Interview

  • An interviewer has to be motivated or the person your interviewing will not be motivated. You have to set a good example. Try to be enthusiastic, so it doesn’t get boring and uncomfortable.
  • Try to think on your feet so the interview can still go smoothly when something arises that was not anticipated. You never know when that great story will come out, and you’ll want to follow it. Elaborate on questions if you seem to be getting an interesting response. Ask “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • Talk to the person you’re interviewing. Don’t just fire away with questions. Small talk helps ensure that the person you are interviewing feels comfortable.
  • Do not make the person you are interviewing feel uncomfortable. If it seems as if the person doesn’t want to talk about a topic, then respect that and move on.
  • Show the interviewee that you are interested in what he or she is saying. Nod your head and make eye contact so that he or she knows what is being said is of use to you.
  • Don’t talk too much – you want to learn information about the person you’re interviewing – not the other way around.
  • Focus on getting the information you need. Don’t get too absorbed in unnecessary details.
  • Be sure to thank your interviewee for his or her help!

Suggested Resources:

Image from US Army via Flickr

Fishing For Stories

Stories are all around us – in every room, on every street, and in every nook and cranny in our lives. The trick as a writer is to figure out how to pull them out into the open. How do we find great stories? What details do we need to observe? What questions do we need to ask? These are the struggles we face every day as writers.

In today’s class I compared fishing to the idea of finding stories. Like a fisherman, we need to be observant to where we can go to find the stories, and we need to be active and patient in our search. A fisherman isn’t just lucky, and neither is a writer. To be successful, you need to develop your skills.

First Day of 2010-2011

lillypadAt this time tomorrow, we’ll be done with the first day of school for the new year. It’s hard to believe that a whole summer has gone past us, and yet here we are. For me, it’s the start of my 15th year, but for my students, it’s the last year of middle school. Wow and yikes!

So, here I am sitting in the sauna that is my room, making final adjustments to tomorrow’s activities, organizing the straggling items hanging around the room, and anticipating the moment when students walk in early tomorrow morning. What will the day bring? What will the year bring? Will the town ever finish the road construction outside the school? Who knows, but however it turns out, I’m sure it will be exciting and worth remembering.

Let me know what you’re anticipating for the opening of school or how your first day went. Can’t wait the hear from you.

Image from Pics4Learning

Summer Reading, Anyone?

It’s the last day of summer vacation, it’s a beautiful sunny day, the kids are relatively content, and I’m sitting on my front porch with nothing to read. That’s right,  I made it through my entire summer reading list, and I still had a day left over.

For me, this is a major accomplishment. Usually between school work, entertaining the children, and the extensive “honey-do” list, completing my summer reading list is an effort in futility. But, this year I made it a priority. Reading became my school work. Entertaining the children meant giving them time to play independently together. And, the “honey-do” list became a placeholder in my books. For all of that, I managed to make time for a book a week.

maximum rideWhat the DickensBook ThiefRed Pyramid

Here’s my list:

So, now it’s your turn. What books did you read this summer? Did you get to read everything you wanted? What did you like? What will you be reading next? Leave a comment.

Finding Inspiration

Of the many things that we do here at Parker that help to make it a special and unique place is the Visiting Author Series. Each year a YA author comes to speak to students about writing and offers a small-group workshop with a few students. This year’s visiting author was Kathleen Benner Duble, whose novel, The Sacrifice, was a big hit during one of our read-alouds this year. At her all-school presentation, Duble talked a lot about how she gets her ideas for stories, and one of her main messages on Friday was that “you don’t have to look far to find something to write about.”

According to her, some great places to find ideas for writing are connected to your own life. Here are a few that she mentioned.

  • Your own experiences – the things that have happened to you in your life.
  • Other people’s lives – family, relatives, and friends
  • Your genealogy – stories from your ancesters that have been handed down or that you can discover
  • Where you live – your backyard, your town, your part of the country
  • Mothers and fathers – “Yes, they once had fun and interesting lives, too.”
  • Vacations – Places you’ve gone to visit.
  • History, research, books, and other sources

Look back through the things that you have written. Where have you found your inspiration for your writing?

Backchannel Redux

Well, this is exciting! Doug Wilhelm, who wrote The Revealers, who spoke to the 8th graders here in Reading a few weeks ago, is back to blogging after a winter hiatus. And guess what? His first post back is about his experience with our class!

During his visit to Parker, we tried backchanneling in which about 20 students with laptops participated in an online discussion about his presentation at the same time as he was giving it. And, while the experience wasn’t perfect, it did lay the groundwork for, as he describes it, something “potentially more powerful.”

Take some time, read through the posts, and leave a comment. I’d love to hear what people think , regardless if you’re a student who was at the workshop, if you are a parent in the district, or if you are someone who’s just dropping in on the conversation.

Jolly Roger, the Pirate

As a free writing assignment, students were asked to simply “write something important.” While some students struggled with the open-endedness of this assignment, others really jumped on the opportunity to write on a subject that either they or others care about. Here is one student’s submission.

by Kaylee R.

I have been thinking about what is “important” all week and can’t settle on one thing. I can only make one long list of things. Family, friends, freedom or sports to name a few. It is a big topic that can be easier to be general and specific being harder. After a lot of thought I chose something that umbrellas everything important to me, reading and writing.

jolly roger, the pirateMost people would read that last sentence and think is she crazy, who thinks reading is that important? Well for me reading and writing is like telling my own story. I remember having the worst first-first grade teacher. She didn’t teach me anything. When I moved I couldn’t read anything with more that ten words per page and it had to have a lot of pictures. The only book I read in first grade was “Jolly Roger, the Pirate”, (my teacher let me keep because it was my one and only favorite). But I tried and tried and now reading is one of my favorite activities. When I finish a book about the size of a “Harry Potter” book I remember that I could never finish a book only a few years ago. Today my parents have to take my book away as a punishment instead of making me read. In elementary school I would come home and my dad would stick my book in my face and make me read for a half an hour, now when I come home he takes the book away so I remember to do my homework.

Writing, most people find that a pain, too. It has all these rules to follow and it is confusing to get right. I felt the same way until I started reading and did some free writing on my own. I love free writing because I love to use my imagination. Growing up everyone would comment on my great imagination, but I was self conscious about my inability to spell correctly. I stayed away from writing. Eventually I started writing down my feelings and that turned into poetry and I became less conscious of my mistakes. My poetry got really long and I realized I could create a story out of it. My poetry was mostly about what I was feeling, so I put those feelings into characters and wrote them down and grew from there. Now I love writing because I can put myself into it, like a movie. I am no longer self consciously, nervously watching what I write. I just do it.

Microblogging During an Assembly

Doug Wilhem, author of The Reavelers, came to speak to our classes the other day. He’s been coming to Parker for the last three or four years, usually to speak about his book and bullying, but this time he came specifically to talk about writing. This presentation was also a little out of the ordinary because about one quarter of the students talked the whole time during the assembly.

Ok, they didn’t really “talk,” but instead did something called backchanneling – some people call it microblogging, whatever. The idea is that students are armed with laptops and are directed to “chat” online about the presentation as it’s happening. I’ve experimented with this a few times this year, once during classroom speeches in which students offered “live” feedback, and once right before February vacation when Mr. Musselman and I had our two classes discuss a video that was being shown across the team. Today’s assemby with Doug Wilhelm was the first time I’ve tried it with someone from “the outside.”

Mr. Wilhelm was noticeably concerned when I had brought up the idea to him a few weeks ago in an email. “All sounds very interesting,” he noted suspiciously. “Won’t the simultaneous online discussion distract the kids from actually listening to me, though?” I’m sure the furious tapety-tapety that seemed to echo more loudly than normal in the auditorium during the first part of his talk didn’t help to ease his concerns, either. (He asked the same question later on after the assembly ended.)

And, to some extent, the kids were distracted. At one point, a student brought up how hard it is to concentrate on both the presentation and the backchannel discussion at the same time. I tried to give students some guidelines.

edmodo Wilhelm 1

I feel it’s a skill that students need to learn – especially as technology continues to shift the way that we do things. In some ways, backchanneling is a more sophisticated way of taking notes. Whenever students look down to their notebooks to write down something important, they inevitably miss the next thing being said. The trick is to learn to duck in and out of the conversation – to learn when you need to pay attention and when you can relax and reflect. But especially when you need to pay attention. One time Mr. Wilhelm wanted students to note the differences in two versions of the same scene in his book, and I needed to redirect students to pay attention.

Edmodo Wilhelm stop typing

When students were on, though, the conversation was thoughtful and valuable. A number of students asked really good questions.

Edmodo Wilhelm drafts

Other times, students picked up on statements that seemed to resonate with them and provided jumping off points for further conversation in the backchannel.

Edmodo Wilhelm Characters

It’s these types of exchanges that make microblogging and backchanneling so compelling. Would students have had the chance to discuss their thoughts in an authentic way later on during the day? Maybe, but most likely, the conversations wouldn’t have been so rich. And, certainly, students would not have remembered much of what particularly impacted them at the time.

I appreciate Doug Wilhelm for being a good sport to allow this kind of activity to go on during his presentation. Mostly, however, I’d like to thank him for providing our students with a really thoughtful, honest, and inspiring discussion about writing – something we should do more frequently.

edmodo wilhelm last

Writing Historical Fiction

So, guess what? It turns out that if you just search “Writing Historical Fiction” on Google, a lot of great resources come up about how to go about putting together historical fiction stories. I know, crazy, right? Here are four quick and useful links that should give you some additional guidance on preparing your stories.

  • Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction by Elizabeth Cook
  • Historical Fiction: who rules, researcher or story-teller? by Caro Clarke
  • Prithee, How Should I Tackle Historical Fiction, Fair Lady? by Nicola Morgan
  • Writing Historical Fiction by Alisa Libby
  • The Light

    by Maddie D.

    Ever heard the expression “The elephant in the room”? It means that something important or big is there, but we all choose to ignore it; to pretend like it’s not there. Well there’s an elephant in the halls of our school. It’s how we treat each other. We all know we do it, and we all know it’s wrong. Well if we are told over and over again that we need to change our behavior, then why do we choose to ignore it? We all seem like ignorant, lazy people if we don’t even attempt to fix our behavior. Dr. Michael Fowlin’s assembely was a wake up call for me. It opened my eyes to the way act towards eachother and the way we should act towards eachother, and how compltely different they are.

    FowlinDr. Michael Fowlin’s assembly was extremely influencial. The reason that it impacted me so much was that it was so raw and true. He didn’t hold back at all. He approached our problems head-on and tied in his own personal struggles. However, the thing that I appreciated the most was the fact that he took on problems from at least six different perspectives. Each one of them had completley different personalities, situations, problems, and characteristics. He took on the roles of a six year old boy, a gay football player, a teenage girl, an “emo” young adult, and more. Despite their differences, they all had one thing in common; they had problems that were made worse and even caused by the people around them. Everything that Dr. Michael Fowlin did was shocking, but in a good way.

    Dr. Michael Fowlin wasn’t afraid to accuse us of what we all know we do, and for me, it just made it that more shocking. Every other assembly or activity on this subject didn’t change me at all. It just repeated what we’ve all heard before. I especially liked how he compared us to different types of animals. It painted a picture in my mind, and frankly, was spot-on. When he compared us to zebras, it was almost funny how right he was. The other comparison I liked was the moth. The whole idea of constantly trying to find the light, no matter how much time you have, made me want to work harder in school and life in general. Another thing I liked was when he came right out and said that at least four people in the audience didn’t get told they were beautiful. It only instantly proved him right when he said that there were kids in this school that were dealing with hard times. Dr. Michael Fowlin was the exactly the type of person I want to be. He was honest, bold, and used the pain and suffering he lived through to impact the lives of hundreds of people. That is the light I want to reach in my life.

    Our Own Little Bronze Statues

    Can it really be that I went a whole month without posting to our class blog? What happened? Was I in Vancouver competing in the Slackerathalon (event combining TV watching with power napping)? Did Jay Leno take my job? Honestly, I can’t remember where the time went.

    Well, regardless, a few weeks ago everyone took some time to look back over the blog posts from the previous four months. The result were the first ever Writing Awards for Students who Blog in Olivo’s Classes or WASBOCs in which students gave themselves awards for their good writing. Here are some examples among the fine and excellent writing so far this year.

    Grace S.‘s Best Grabber… My Adventure through Barnes & Noble This piece was selected for its originality, personality, and writing structure. The grabber is no were near the main idea of the writing, which is choice and decisions, but the author manages to link them in a creative way. For this topic Honorable mention goes to The Pancake Box.

    Jimmy C.‘s Best Writing Piece … December 12th 2010, the Infection Reaches Japan I like this piece because I was allowed to be truly creative.  Although other assignments have large areas where I can really use my imagination, this whole piece is from my own brain.  I also liked it because it still involves real facts and some research, mainly for spelling things correctly. Honorable mentions go to Out of the Oven, into the Freezer, Humid has the First Four Letters of Humiliation, Nasa, Where has your Competence Gone?

    Anna O.‘s Best Adjective Phrase is in “Missing“. The phrase is “subtle, mischievous”. It described the gleam of the students’ eyes. Most teachers know when their students are planning something, but substitute teachers? Not so much. I like this adjective phrase because it doesn’t use small, everyday words. Instead it uses the words that we don’t always hear on a daily basis.

    Kevin F.‘s Best Idea … First Impressions  This topic transformed a really specific idea into a broader, general idea that a lot of people could relate to. It stretched my capabilities in coming up with topics to write about and it deserves this award. The Trail Of Ducklings wins the honorable mention for this award.

    Dan S.‘s Best Comparison … For every blog post we are  very strongly encouraged to add either a simile or metaphor. My best best comparison can be located in my blog post: “7th period… 1:39… 12-10-09 ”. It is as follows: “All of the commotion in the hallway was as loud as a buffalo stampede.” I think this was my best one because it was true and fit in perfectly for when I was describing the tumultuous hallway. I almost considered putting the simile from the blogpost: “Now, That’s What I Call Determination” or even maybe the one from: “LEAVE US ALONE!! “. I really liked the sound of them and how they fit in. I thought they were very good comparison as well, and they’re both about trains; I just noticed that. I was really close to reconsidering and putting the one from: “Now That’s What I Call Determination”. Which one do you think is better?

    Repetitive is Annoying

     Last week students were introduced to the concept of commenting. We spent time in class discussing effective commenting, and learning about how to moderate their comments. Then students had the chance to try it out on each others’ blogs. Here’s what Jared D. thought of the activity.

    Students and teachers are familiar with this problem we cannot stand.  This problem happens in every class, and never stops.  The problem is the kids who try to be funny and say the same thing over and over again.  First of all, after ten times saying per 45 minute class in a seven period cycle is insanely annoying.  It is annoying because it is so repetitive and you want them to say something new or to just stop talking.  That is why one of those kids is like a person’s blog with the same writing but different topic, they are annoying and it gets old.  That’s why I think to get a good amount of comments on your blog you need to be creative.  You need to bring something new to the table each time.  You cannot use the same wordings, same comparisons and basically the same grabber. 

    I was happy to find over fifteen comments on my blog today.  I know these people didn’t go home to read my blog willingly, but at the same time most people in my class got around eight comments.  This meant, I think, my writing was good enough that people read through the whole thing and left comments.  The comments never had the words like, “I think you could improve on…”  But an example of one of the comments is, “nice job jared. You made a lot of connections to the book and made great comparisons. You used multiple examples of quotes and explained your thoughts thoroughly and descriptively. You made the word approximation known and you made a great comparison to yourself for approximations.”  All of my comments were something like that; everybody complimented me and had no suggestions for me to follow.  And all of my comments didn’t compliment me on the same thing.  Some mentioned my descriptive writing, “Jared I agree with this because Reading is very dull and boring, and I can never find anything to do here. I like when you said that if you had to pick a flag it would be white and dull, and I agree with that. The way you described the mini golf course and everything was very descriptive. Good Job!”  And some mentioned my grabber, “I like the grabber, especially the sentence “I wasn’t screaming, on the ground, balling my eyes out and flailing my arms and legs rapidly.” It was an interesting grabber and it didn’t drag on like some can. I like how you put in the wordmasters word and it fit in.”

    Some people I talked to only had three or four comments.  I’m not going to use names but I wasn’t really surprised.  I wasn’t surprised because they weren’t known for sitting down and making a great assignment.  I’m not saying I make the best writings but I put a little more into mine.  But anyway, I went to their blog and I was right.  They had little ideas which they repeated a lot, little paragraphs, and their work was an inch worm crawling across my computer screen; they are both very small and you don’t want it on your screen.  But what really caught my attention was that their few comments were all alike.  They were short, careless or very long, descriptive.  The shorter comments were a sentence long and said something along the lines of, “Hi!  This is (blank) just saying hi.  Oh yeah and I liked your writingJ” And the long ones were saying that they should a lot more, which I agree with.  These people that I’m talking about aren’t necessarily terrible writers but they need to step it up in order to get peoples’ attention.  And apparently I’m good at getting peoples’ attention in my writing. (Jared D)

    Writing — In Your Own Words

    It’s halfway through the year in our little class, and we’ve been working so hard — everybody. Don’t think I don’t know. From Romeo & Juliet, to Junior Great Books, to Wordmasters, it’s seemed like we’ve covered so much. However, the one thing that we’ve really…I mean really…focused on is writing. Recently, I asked everyone to comment on his or her progress so far this year. Here’s what you said.

    Time flies like an arrow. We are already half way through the school year. It seems like just yesterday I was walking through the dark green, rectangular doors of Parker Middle School to begin my first day of eighth grade. Looking back on some of my most early writings, I can see that I’ve improved my writing so much in just half a school year. Although, I still have things to improve on. (Kevin F)

    In English class you learn and grow but not like the other subjects. You’re given an assignment and pushed to the edge of the diving board able to independently decide how your dive turns out. There are no worksheets or text books or big research projects, just plain writing, interpretation, and imagination. (Grace S)

    When I first came into school, the thought of writing more than one paragraph at a time freaked me out. By now I’m writing up to six paragraphs a night. When a new idea or standard is introduced to us, our first instinct is to reject it. But as the standards get harder, it only makes the ones before that seem like nothing. Our Always and Forever rules keep getting harder, and at the same time keep making the ones before easier. On the first day of sixth grade, our homework was to write a letter about ourselves. Everyone freaked out, as if writing a page about yourselves is that hard. Now, being in eighth grade and writing at least three paragraphs in every assignment, it seems easy. Looking back on that first day almost makes me laugh. (Maddie D)

    Mr. Olivo is not an easy teacher, but a challanging teacher. Unless you’re up for the challange, it is not going to be easy. I know that sometimes you get a grade that isn’t the kind that you hang up on the refrigeorator, but when you know that you are learning, and doing better than the year before, and trying, that’s when it really counts. (Jenna C)

    When we got our first assignment which was writing a letter to Mr. Olivo, I was just plain bored. I didn’t know what to say, so I wrote down what I had in mind, making it plain and straightforward. But then, my writing started to get more fun to read and more entertaining. I started to put my voice into it more often and had personal experiences tied into my writing assignments. I started from writing plain, boring papers to writing funny and “laugh out loud” papers. I think that since the first time I walked in to Mr. Olivo’s room, my writing became better. I think that my writing still has hole in them sometimes but I feel like I am still progressing to becoming a tree. (Mary C)

    In English class we do a lot of writing. I think the only way people could not improve on their writing is if they really tried their hardest not to. Writingis my favorite part of English — it always has been. (Pete W)

    One thing that I am most proud about is my writing. I think it has really changed from September to now. last year, if someone gave me a blank piece of paper, I would have no idea where to start. Now, I can think of something a lot easier and im able to write about whatever comes to mind. This is something that im really proud of because i know i will use it in life. Sure Ive gotten better at knowing the mass of planets, but that’s not really something I think i will have to know in life. Writing is something that is a guarantee in life. (Bella G)

    “My writing has improved a lot over the course of the year.” That was the way I used to introduce my essays. Yawn! Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Olivo fell asleep while reading my first few essays. I remember one of our FCA’s for an assignment was to give an essay about president Obama an interesting title. I called mine “My Opinion of President Obama’s speech.” Well that is about as interesting as staring at a blank wall. Then, when I was told that the title I had written wasn’t good enough and that I had to redo it, I learned my lesson. I started being more creative. Sometimes I select pieces from song, a quote, or a random idea that comes to my mind to use as a title. I feel as if my writing has improved as well. Instead of writing boring, lame, dull introductions, I try to write about something entertaining. (Molly E)

     Of course my writing is obviously not perfect but I can tell that it has a changed a lot for the good since the beginning of the year. I also feel a lot more confident in writing in other subjects because I have the knowledge of writing from English and I have never felt like that about writing ever until now. (Kayla R)

    This school year, I’ve learned to accept everyone, and realize that we’re all living a similar life coming back to this school everyday, and we should all get along. (Shannah C)

    Book Ideas for February

    If you’re looking for something to read for the month of February, then here are five book ideas that came from last month’s book fair here at Parker. Check out the links to the student blogs as well for even more ideas. (Mr. O)


    Along for the RideAlong for the Ride by Sarah Dessen — “I love Sarah Dessen’s books, they are the only books that I can sit down and read without stopping. I’ve never read but it looks very interesting.” ~Samantha D — For more about Sarah Dessen books, check out Joanna F’s blog.



    Boy Striped PjsThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne — “I saw this movie probably about half a year ago. It was one of my absolute favorite movies. It was so extremely sad, it really touched me. Everyone says the books are always better than the movies. They always are…” ~Kasey L — This book was the most written about among all of my students–most likely because, like Kasey, many have seen the movie.



    ShiverShiver by Maggie Stiefvater — This “is definitely an interesting story. It’s about wolves, to be specific werewolves. Just saying that it reminds most people of the popular series twilight. This might be part of the reason why it appeals to me, and many other readers.” ~Rachel F



    Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher — “Mystery books aren’t really for me. They really stress me out and confuse me but this book caught my attention. First of all, one thing that I look for when choosing a book, is a snazzy title. “Th1rteen R3asons Why”? TOTALLY got my attention! And when I read the summary, a suicide and an “ominous” package? So reading this book!” ~Mary C



    Winter GirlsWinter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson — This “seemed very mysterious like there were many problems that the character had to face. Lia, the main character, suffers from anorexia which is very sad but I was interested in how she lives and copes with problems.” ~Grace S

    He WAS Right…

    Recently, students were asked to choose a book to read independently outside of class. In doing so, they were asked to write about their process for choosing one. Here is the entry from Andy J.

    My brother tells me a lot of things, most of which I believe, but sometimes he is trying to trick me into doing something bad. For example, he knows I hate mustard, so one time he told me that his honey mustard was cheese, and of course I believed him. So I tried this “cheese”, and it ended up being honey mustard. I was very angry once I found out the truth. However this time, he told me that this book Eragon by Christopher Paolini was a very good book. I told him I was not interested because I wanted to make up my own mind. He kept telling me to read it and bugged me over and over again. I wanted to be independent, so I rejected all of his requests. But, I finally decided it could not hurt to start reading it and in fact, it is a very good, intriguing book.

    books-eragonIt started a long time ago, like 2 years ago. My brother read the book Eragon and liked it very much. He liked it so much, he wanted to read the rest of the books in the trilogy, but only 2 of the three were published. He could not wait another moment to read the third book, and when it came out, he bought it right away. I was in need of a book to read one day and he suggested Eragon but I didn’t really want to read it. I also do not like it when people make suggestions and say how good it is right in my face, as if I am the king and they are my annoying advisor. I want to make up my own mind about reading it or not, not have someone telling me to read it, over and over again.

    I pretended like I wasn’t interested in that book at all, even though it did sound pretty good. I did this because I wanted to be my own person, not just like what other people are interested in. Mr. Olivo recently told us to read a book for the month. This is the time that I decided to read Eragon and my brother was very glad to hear this. As I was reading it one day, he told me he was going to re-read all of the books in the trilogy to freshen up his mind for the fourth book. Even though my brother tells me a lot of things, some of which lead me to badness, he was right about Eragon. I think I will turn out to like it. (Andy J.)


    In this assignment, students were to write about a place in town. Here is Maddie’s submission as well as a video by John Ellement from

    by Maddie D.

    As the wind sweeps across the dry, bare parking lot, it sweeps sand into the air, dusting the broken fence and abandoned walkway. A lonely shopping cart rolls slowly across the pavement as the wind pushes it like a gust guides a sail. The ATLANTIC sign is dim and grey; and missing an N. The lights are out, and the doors are closed forever. We all abandoned this little family-run store because it could no longer keep up with the hard economy. I have a lot of memories and traditions tied to this grocery market; but recently we just dumped it to make it due with what we have.

    As you know, things are getting harder and harder for people to make it these day. I don’t know much about the economy – but when stores I love start getting closed down I know its bad. It seems we all have such busy and tough lives that we need to adapt and keep moving on. And this requires leaving our little family shops and small businesses that can’t keep up with the big names. A while ago, everyone was satisfied with what they had. There were no televisions, cell phones, radios, or videogames. Which also meant that they didn’t have to worry abut spending so much money – but as time moves on, we must too.

    I really wish Atlantic didn’t go out of business. I have countless memories and traditions tied to that store. Since I grew up in Reading, it was the closest and most convenient store to shop at. When I was a little girl, I remember everything about me and my mom’s shopping trips there. It was always the same thing; park two spaces away from the door, walk in and feel the cold rush of air sweep across my face, listen to the clicking of the cart’s wheels over the tiles of the floor, walk past the refrigerated section and get goosebumps due to the open case, always ask for the same chocolate milk (but not get it), and help my mom pick out the cold cuts for sandwiches at home. I would stand on my tiptoes and watch the men make sushi with lightening speed unti my mom was finished checking out and called me over. In the winter we would park in the back. The salt for salting the roads turned the pavement parched and white, and a dry wind was always blowing until I reached the red tarp in the store. Seeing it empty and abandoned made me feel depressed and hopeless, and it still does. (Maddie D.)

    I’m a 2000 Kid

    Guess, what is coming up? If you guessed vacation you are absolutely correct. I am ready for a break, but also ready for the New Year. It is not just a new year it is a new decade.

    Everyone else and I are starting to get sick of school. Maybe there is one kid in the whole country that doesn’t want to leave school. Even the teachers want a break from teaching us annoying kids. The second the bell rings is perhaps one of the greatest feelings of all time, it is as good as sitting in a massage chair. It feels like a weight is being lifted off my shoulders. All my stress is gone. I do not have that feeling of “ugh I have to come back here tomorrow”. I can finally completely relax.

    This year as been fast, difficult and exciting, you may think “how can all those words be mixed together like that”. Well it seemed short; I can clearly remember last years new year’s eve party, and that was a whole year ago. 8th grade was a big leap in work. In 7th grade I would have maybe 30 minutes of homework every night. Now in 8th grade homework averages at one and a half hours every night. Every Friday this year I have at least 1 quiz or test. This year’s work has been difficult. But this year has also been very fun. I have gained so many friends, and a couple best friends.

    This may be the end of the year but it is also the end of the decade. We are the generation of 2000. When I am older I can say I lived my childhood in the 00’s. The world has been through very much this decade. We had the electronic explosion. The internet was a household thing and every family had at least 2 computers. This was a great year and decade but it isn’t quite over yet, I still have Christmas to get through. (Sam R)

    My Mother is My Enemy

    (The following is a student response after reading “The Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan)

    “When I was your age, I could walk to school even if I lived miles away and NOT be tired! Can’t you do the same?”

    My mother doesn’t bother me like that but I can imagine her saying things like that. She sometimes shows off, you know? And when I compete with her and become better than her she pushes me harder. Sometimes my mother becomes my enemy. Sometimes, I just want to be better than her. Sometimes, I wish she wouldn’t interfere as much. I’m sure that Waverly, in the book, “The Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan, felt the same way as she made her way from just a playground girl to a national champion.

    On page 32, Waverly’s mother told her to lose less chess pieces when she plays. Waverly disagreed and told her that wasn’t the point of the game but after her next successful game, her mother reminded her what she told her to do earlier and said, “Lost eight pieces this time. Last time eleven. What I tell you? Better off lose less!” Waverly’s mom was telling her that what she said was right and that Waverly can do even better next time. Waverly is annoyed by this because, she doesn’t want her mom to think that she can control what Waverly does at games and she doesn’t want her to go bragging that Waverly won because of the advice she had given her.

    On page 34, Waverly finds it hard to concentrate with her mother around and tells her to go away. Sometimes my mom stays around when I’m doing something and comments and does things to push me to do better. Sometimes, I appreciate it, but most of the time, it annoys me. It makes me feel like that she’s telling me that she could do better and she thinks I can’t do any better and needs major help or something. Waverly felt the same way. She wanted to be alone and concentrate on chess but her mother was always there, over her, watching every move Waverly made. It gets on your nerves. Waverly didn’t want her  mother to act as if she was better than her so she told her that she was distracting her.

    Waverly’s opponent turned out to be her mother. For me, once, it was my friend. I have talent for drawing and my friend knows it. She sometimes annoys me by watchingme while I draw saying things like, “Her face looks lopsided,” or, “Her hair looks like sticks.” Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to beat her no matter what, trying not to get criticizing comments, but compliments. But her comments kept coming. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked her why she was being so critical and told her that I didn’t like it when she said that. She became upset and told me that she was only doing that to help me become better at drawing. I apologizede later on, and we forgave each other. I think that Waverly’s mother was also trying to help her daughter and that Waverly was the one that interpreted her mother’s actions and words differently and thought that her mother was only bragging. Her mother was only extremely proud of her and that’s why she had bragged. (Mary C)

    Day 71 – Life is Like a Game of Chess

    Once I walked into English on Tuesday, I knew it was going to be an interesting class. On the back board for homework, it said to write everything you knew about chess and/or the rules of the game. Now I’m not a big fan of chess. Mostly because I don’t know a thing about it and I think it is very confusing. But I was also wondering why Mr. Olivo wanted us to write about it.

    I wasn’t in school yesterday, but I did the homework and wrote what I knew about chess; which wasn’t much. In school today, Thursday December 17th, we watched a clip of the book we read called The Rules of the Game. As you can guess, it’s about chess. A young girl has a mother who taught her how to play chess very well. The little girl got very good at playing and was the state champ. She knew all of the secrets and how to win every time. After we watched the movie scene, Mr. Olivo told us to go back to the book and write down as many passages as we could find where Waverly (the young girl) felt like her mother was her opponent. I found 4. Mr. Olivo found 8. He put a chess board on the projector and I didn’t know why. Maybe we were going to play?

    We did not end up playing. Instead, Mr. Olivo played the story like it was one big, giant chess game. It was like two games in one. The story was about chess, and the story itself was played like chess. For example, when the mother said something, she was always right. So she won the game in the end. She beat her daughter. In Waverly’s head, at the end, she was imagining her life as a chess board and her mother as the opponent. The way I’m saying all of this does sound confusing, but if you ever read the story it would make sense. The author, Amy Tan, is a very clever writer. The way she wrote the story was very smart and I think it was a great story to read in English class. (Jessica S)

    Day 70 – Chess in English?

    I thought today was a fun day. There were laughs and I learned a lot. We started by defining in our own words what we thought invisible strength was. I guessed that it was having brain power, and not letting your opponent know what you are thinking. This works well in Chess because if you really think about your moves, you can trap people. If you let other people know what your thinking, they will be able to trap you and eventually win the game. Invisible strenth is basically mapping out what your going to do through the game.

    After we made a class definition of invisible strength, we looked back into the Junior Great Book to look for references to it. I never knew how important the first line of a story could be. That line was basically the main point of the book. I would have never linked what we found through the rest of the book with ought Mr. Olivo pointing it out.

    Towards the end of the class, we learned that the game of chess was really just symbolizing her battle with her mom. That made me think back to fairy tales, and how everything symbolizes something else. This also made me think more about the pre-reading questions we did about competing with your parents, and them bragging about you. Everything links back to something else, and I think that was the main point of the class. With about 10 minutes left, the class got to learn the rules of chess. When the movements of each piece was explained, we got to play for the next 5 minutes of class. That really helped to understand the game of chess. (Bella G)

    Day 67 – Parenting: It’s Pretty Tricky

    I guess as an eighth grader I don’t know much about how to be a good parent. I’m not exactly sure if parents should push their kids to succeed, or just let them grow up on their own and make their own decisions. This is what we dicussed in english class on Friday.

    I rush into class, my binder and composition book falling to the ground. I sit down in my seat and realize our desks are broken into groups. My group is Kayla, Sarah, Linus, Hannah and me. We copy down our homework as usual and talk until Mr. Olivo tells us our assignment for class. We are told that we will be given a question and everyone in our group must present their ideas about it. Then, our group gets our question. We have to answer the question “Should parents push their kids to excel?”

    This question brings up a very interesting conversation in my group. While my parents have treated me like a 20 year old, other kid’s parents treat them like they are still four. I believe parents shouldn’t push their kids while some of the other kids argue, “If kids are not pushed, they won’t do anything.” It was a very strange how we all thought different things about what originally seemed to be an easy question.

    Then, Mr. Olivo had everyone share. All the questions really made me think about things I hadn’t really thought about previously. Even though they seemed simple, truly they were diffucult, confusing, challenging questions. As class came to an end our class was informed that we are going to be starting a new Junior Great Book story that relates to what we have discussed. The bell rings, I gather my stuff, and head to my locker. (Molly E)

    Day 66 – The Difference

    This year in English class, a lot of kids have been writing their homework assignments in their blog, and today we got to read through a couple of examples of other kids writing. It was interesting to see all the different writing styles everyone was writing in, and how it was different to mine. we also learned what we were right and wrong about when you have an admirer.

    When we walked into class today, I took my seat towards the back and looked at what was tonight’s homework and it made no sense until we went to the computer lab. We went on the computers, got on edline, and got on to Mr. Olivo’s blog. There were about 5-10 blog posts on the front page, and they all had great titles, and all I was thinking was “Why didn’t I think of that title”.

    Then the whole class were reading through the blogs, and it was a very quiet, calm 10 minutes until we were given further instructions to take notes that we will have to write about for homework. We had to find out what we were right and wrong about when we first wrote about having an admirer, then we had to find two quotes form the blog post and two quotes from the book that relates to this. After that we pushed in our chairs, and I headed off to art. (Dave M)

    Have We Learned Anything?

    One of the things that I love about the Junior Great Books is how each story has a connection that touches some part of each and every one of us. Perhaps it’s an experience we’ve all shared, exhilirating or painful. Maybe it’s just a feeling that sneaks into our mind, like a summer rainstorm that passes as quickly as it arrives. Or, possibly it’s something that has been inside us all along that we’ve never noticed was there. From reading all of the responses last week, it’s clear to me that “Sucker” by Carson McCullers is just that type of story to which nearly everyone can relate.

  • Admiration by Kate A
  • A Fine Line Called Fame by Maddie D
  • Behind the Disguise in the Picture by Anna O
  • The Big Let Down by Hannah L
  • Follow the Leader by Jackie M
  • Go Jump Off a Cliff by Mary C
  • It’s My Opinion. Get Your Own! by Amanda L
  • Like My Shadow by Molly E
  • My Double by Kasey L
  • Paparazzi! by Caroline G
  • The Positives and the Negative by Alexa M
  • The Puppy by Jared D
  • Too Much Love by Shanna G
  • Why Would You Follow Me by Sam R
  • You Never Know Who is Watching by Megan M
  • “SUCKER”X2=Boring?

    “Sucker” is a pretty powerful story, but after you read it twice, it gets boring and predictable. That is what we did in English today. We read the story “Sucker”…again. However, it wasn’t so bad because this time, Mr. Olivo read it to us. It is different if some one else reads it to you, than you reading it to yourself. It almost changes your perspective of the story.

    When some one reads it to you, you get a different feeling or thought of what a character is saying, or what they are doing, because you hear different emphasis on different parts of the sentences. When Mr. Olivo read it to the class we had to put a “mark” on important spots in the story. When he was reading, he read it so good, it was as if he was a storyteller, who had memorized all the lines and was passing it on to us kids, the audience.

    As he read it, he also put some emotion into what the character was saying, which totally changed the way I thought about what they had just said. Normally people would just read the lines of the story, and not really put much emphasis or emotion into it. But if you do, it totally changes the story. When Mr. Olivo told us he was going to read “Sucker” to us today, I complained,”awwh, this is going to be boring!” but it helped me understand the story better, even if it was a boring, tedious, class. (Andy J)

    Day 63 – Starting Off the Day With Some Pep

    Monday mornings, I hate them but if it wasn’t a Monday morning it would just be a Tuesday morning I would be complaining about. Something that makes them a little better is English first period because it wakes me up for the rest of the day because Mr. Olivio is peppy and makes us start thinking. Even though today’s class was calm it was an easy way to start off the day.

    I walked into English and sat down in my seat next to Jenna and Will. I wrote down my homework and like usual on Mondays it was to start our anytime this week assignments. This week we have an extra assignment of writing about the cold, white, fluffy snow but it should be emotional meaning it should carry memories or deep thoughts about it. Mr. Olivio passed out weekly letters and I was proud I had no checks. Then he passed out folders to put our two word masters tests in. I was surprised that I got the grade I got because I hardly studied and now I wonder what my grade would have been if I did study. We went over the homework a little more and he added his tenth rule on his everlasting list of Always and Forever Rules. This rule was to include an adjective phrase which is two or more adjectives used to describe one word. What is he going to add next?

    For the remainder of class we listened to Mr. Olivio’s lively, soothing voice as he read Sucker aloud. Reading Junior Great Books is like watching the news, it makes me fall right asleep. AS we read the story we wrote notes on where the characters behavior changes. Even though some parts didn’t make sense, it was emotional and inspiring. The moral was that if there is a strong relationship between two people, treasure it, don’t let go, and don’t let anything come in between it. I know if some of my relationships I had with people completely disappeared it would be very and I don’t know what I’d do. (Megan M)

    Day 62 – A Lot Easier This Time

    Scapegoat: blame: Marauder:? Yes, yesterday was the dreaded word masters test. A test complete with 20 pretty difficult analogies, what could be worse? Well, that’s what I originally thought.

    But then, when I started taking the test, I felt like I knew all the answers! I figured out if the first and second words were antonyms, synonyms, part to whole, or levels of intensity. Then, I would figure out if they were adjectives, verbs, or nouns. Just as we had learned to do in class. When I couldn’t remember what some words were, I remembered in class when we acted out what our words meant. For example, I completly forgot what truss meant until I thought about when Thomas “trussed” his shoelaces together.

    Last year, I felt like I studied more at home, but still ended up getting worse scores. In 7th grade, we were told to make flashcards and simply study them at home. This year, we wrote stories with our wordmasters, made our own analogies with them, acted them out in class, made sure we knew what part of speech they were, and learned types of analogies. To me, this test was easier then studying last year! When I saw my score I was so pleasantly surprised. (Molly E)

    Day 61 – This Thursday? Since When?

    English classes haven’t been too out of the ordinary lately, except for the fact we finished Romeo & Juliet. Now it seems wordmasters has become the concern, and I’m pretty sure our class needed some help on that. Although we have had our words for quite the time, many people haven’t considered reading the weekly letter that they “accede,” to and haven’t noticed that the quiz is Thursday, and the Challenge is on Friday. My class, being as goofy as we are became almost surprised at the situation, and decided to put it in gear with the words this week.

    All you could hear fluttering through our classes the past week was “wordmasters? THIS Thursday and Friday!”  No one thought we were ready at the beginning of the week, with 3/4 of the class not even knowing that we had our wordmasters test this week. By today though, after the test I am almost positive that almost the whole class sailed through the test like a boat, with no harm. From my point of view, after taking the test in the class I believed that I was ready, and thought it was pretty easy. All of our practices, and things we worked on really helped me the things I needed to remember to do well on the test, such as making the noun, adjective, and verb lists. Also, it really helped working with the anologies and making me better understand them. That was what we had done for the first part of our class today in English.

    For the second half of class, we were handed out our Junior Great Books. Lucky for me, The Magic Bag of Destiny didn’t choose me to be one of the people who didn’t get the book they ordered because they came in 7 short. We started off by getting in groups, and I decided to work with Tyler & Rachel. We began a story called “Sucker.” When first reading the title I had absolutely no clue what this book was going to be like. After reading the first few pages, but not completely finishing it, I began to understand what was going on. We didn’t have much time for this, so I haven’t finished the story yet, and understood what the point was. Now, I was off to lunch wondering what this story could end like, and what the true meaning of it was. (Shannah C)

    Day 60 – Preparations For Liftoff

    It was the day of my first Word master’s quiz in seventh grade. I was freaking out because I didn’t know if I studied enough! Hopefully Mrs. Martinson’s lessons with “the words” would help me. She thoroughly counted out six papers and passed them down the row. The pencil kept slipping out of my clammy hand as I was trying to write my name. My heart was racing like freight train steaming down the track but my breathing was normal. Ugh, I had barley any practice with analogies which forced me to carefully and slowly complete the TEST.

    When I walked into English class today my head was I a fog and I couldn’t think straight. Knowing Mr. Olivo (and English class) it was necessary that I was able to think. So I sat down and squinted at the board to make out the homework. Mr. Olivo explained that the homework was to prepare us for the Junior Great Book story that we were going to read next week. Since I was out Monday and Tuesday, I also copied down my “Anytime” homework. Then Mr. Olivo started today’s lesson. He first gave us an analogy, “A _____ is something that helps _____.” We filled it in and then regrouped as a class to share what we came up with. Some good ones were cast: broken arm, word: sentence, adverbs: verbs. Mr. Olivo explained to us how analogies worked and how important that you tried to be as exact as you can be. Then, he told the class to write your own analogy and fill it in with two Word Masters words and two normal words. My analogy was “A person who is _____ cannot be _____”. I filled it in with jocose: morose:: happy: sad.

    English class was very helpful for me today. I learned about analogies which will help me with tomorrow’s quiz and the actual test. Because of what I learned I feel more confident about Word Masters. (Grace S)

    Rubik’s Cube:Complex::Wordmasters:Confusing

    Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik’s cube? I have and I think I can speak for everyone that it is really hard! Getting all of the colors in one place, but only going a certain way is a pretty tricky thing to do, but it’s kind of like creating analogies with wordmaster words. You have to pick words that make sense, but still get all of the words to match each other. But I think wordmasters is a little easier to solve then a Rubik’s cube, don’t you?

    Today in English Class, we focused on analogies. But before we could get to them, we did the usual. We came into class, talked to the people around us and copied down our homework. When Mr.Olivo got our attention, he asked for things that needed to be handed in, and after that he started to explain what we were going to do today. We were going to practice solving and creating analogies for our upcoming Wordmaster challenge on Friday. I do not like Wordmasters at all, so when I herd we were going to do Wordmasters, I was bummed. But today was a pretty good class.

    The thing about analogies is that everything needs to match. The first and third word, the second and fourth word, and the first two words and the second two words, all need to match in part of speech and type of comparison. Here’s what I mean:

    Warm : Sun : Cold : Snow

    Warm and cold are both adjectives, and sun and snow are both nouns. But also, the relationship between warm and sun and the relationship between cold and snow is a synonym. Get it?

    Most of today’s class wasn’t too hard, but I know all of this not too hard class work is leading up to a pretty hard Wordmasters test on Friday. I’m not that nervous for it, but at least i know that none of it will be harder then solving a Rubik’s cube. That makes it seem easy right? . . . not. (Hannah L)

    Day 58 – Raising the Bar

    What’s your definition of a short presentation? Because mine may not have been exactly right. But apparently according to what the other kids did in class today, mine was fine. For me, today’s class was all about learning new things, working on old things, and fixing things we had just done.

    Today was November 30th (the last day until the “ Countdown to Christmas”!), a Monday. When we got into class, we sat down and wrote down the homework. Although, we had some changes. We had two “anytime this week assignments”, and yet another FCA was added onto the ever-growing list. Our new FCA was to always add a simile or metaphor.Also, we have to start applying as many rules to our summaries as possible. After we wrote down the homework, we presented our Wordmasters min-presentations, and then got into groups and did another activity on Wordmasters words.

    Today’s class was a transition into more developed work. As our writing improves, old rules get too easy and new ones must be set. Doing this in English class is like a mini version of real life. As you mature. Life gets harder. For some it may seem like right as something’s getting easier, it of course just has to get harder. But I think of it more as raising the bar to accommodate your developing standards. But that’s just me. (Maddie D)

    Day 45 – It’s Finally Over

    Today’s class ended the long amount of time spend on Romeo and Juliet. Before we could get into any real English work, we passed in any work we had done. I was excited about today because, of course it was Friday, but also the word got around that we were gonna finish Romeo and Juliet.

    The first thing we had to do was write down the main details of act 4. It was the day of the wedding, and the Capulet’s found Juliet dead. We talked about what those scenes would be like is we were to take out some parts of it. When the class was done with that, we were ready to finish the play. As I started reading the last few pages of the play, I realized a bunch of things.

    First off, I was proud of myself that I was able to make it that far in the play. That was by far the most difficult play or story I have ever read. I also noticed that I got a lot better at reading, and getting through the play. At the beginning of the whole play, I was completely lost, and didn’t know how to save myself. As I progressed, I got a lot better, by reading the helpful left side of the pages, and breaking the play down line by line. Also, I learned advanced vocabulary like the word quarrel, which I would have never known. I also felt like I was more mature because I read my first real, difficult play by one of the most famous authors. (Bella G)

    Day 44 – Why Am I Afraid Romeo Won’t Come?

    Today is November 5, 2009. Today I walked into class thinking about what we are going to do today? As soon as I sat down Mr. Olivo said take out your composition books! When we did this we spent not a lot of time figuring out which Wordmasters were adjectives. After we finished that we got into groups and read the huge speech Juliet says about the whole plan. During this we had to write down what the text said but what else she could be thinking also.

    Today doing the activity we did with the Juliet speech cleared up basically the whole book for me so far. I started to realize why she was really panicking and having cold feet about Friar Lawrence and Romeo. Some of the things she was saying was that what if Friar Lawrence really does kill me? But at the same time she was also saying how he knows what he’s doing why am I worrying so much about this? Doing all of this made me realize what was really going on in the story. (Kayla R)

    Day 43 – Easy as Pie

    Today was different. We didn’t act out a scene. We didn’t answer questions on Romeo and Juliet. Instead we had our second quiz of the year.

    Last quiz I did pretty bad on because I did not study at all and didn’t really understand Romeo and Juliet at all. It was like reading another language to me. Now that I am starting to understand the play I think I did decent on the quiz. I was not stumped on almost every single question like last time; instead I knew most of them, even the short answer. The only one that puzzled me was the last question, “What did Friar Lawrence tell Romeo to do to fix the situation?” I thought it through and eventually figured it out. I expected the quiz to be much harder but it turned out to be easy as pie. (But isn’t making pie difficult?) (Sam R)

    Day 42 – That is No Slander Which is a Truth

    As I walked into class, I noticed Bernie mumbling something. As I drew nearer, it became clearer, “we have a quiz tomorrow on Act 4, Scene 2 and 3.” He continued to say this as if he were a broken record player. He was finally quiet when I asked him how he spelled his last name, for this assignment. He looked at my paper and turned around in his seat. It was quiet throughout the room when the bell rang. Then, there was only hushed whispers as Mr. Olivo talked to Kyle about what he missed when he was in Florida. Nice, warm Florida. I buried my mind in my Harry Potter book as the story clung to me and the noise ceased to exist. I only looked up when a voice pierced my conscience. The class was asking questions about the quiz tomorrow. Bernie raised his hand and asked, “how can you see without looking. Peripherals?” “Bernie,” Mr. Olivo called when his hand shot up again. Bernie was only itching his arm so the class moved on. Mr. Olivo warned us, “the things we spent longest on are more important.” Then, he directed us into five groups with a character to each group.

    I was in the middle group with two boys. When one discovers we do not need the play, he tosses it aside. We only needed the play to retrieve to find our character’s subtext. Our character was Juliet from Act 4, Scene 2. About three minutes later, Mr. Olivo comes to talk to us about Juliet’s thoughts. He is soon followed by Mrs. Anderson with the same objective. When we finish, the boys start to doodle and I take notes. Dan got interested in what I was doing, so I read all my notes on the class to both of them. Then, Mrs. Anderson came by as I finished and reported, “That was good,” and smiled and walked away. The boys went back to doodling and I read over what we had for the subtext when Mr. Olivo appeared again. We told him we were done and then he gave us the job of finding Paris’ subtext from Scene 1. That wasn’t too difficult. As the class neared its end, we talked as a class about Paris and Capulet showing their subtext, but Friar Laurence and Juliet do not. The class decided that showing emotion was more dramatic than not. The class only had about three more minutes as we put the room back together and talked through the bell. (Kaylee R)

    Day 41 – You Do Not Know the Lady’s Mind?

    Today in English class we did something very different. Well, first I took my seat and copied the homework on the dry erase board. We had to write about what we think two characters from “Romeo and Juliet’s” subtext where. I was confused because I didn’t clearly understand what subtext was. Mr. Olivo explained, “Subtext is the feelings or emotions that we have to figure out from what the character is saying”. He then made us copy the definition.

    “Ok! Lets practice with a small activity!” exclaimed Mr. Olivo. He gave us a piece of paper with a number on it and some text. The person with the same number as me was Melisa. We were told to add emphasis to different words in each sentence to try to demonstrate our situation. For us Melisa was the teacher and I was the student handing in late homework. Once we practiced for a while Mr. Olivo got the class back together and asked each group to perform. Each group had the same script but different situations.

    It was really cool listening to each group and trying to figure out what the situation was. It also made me realize sentences can mean so many different things. (Grace S)

    Day 40 – O, What Learning Is!

    Today is October 30, 2009. In English class today, we performed our skits from Romeo and Juliet. Each groups skit is different from another groups because each group had to eliminate at least sixty lines from the script they received. At the beginning of class, we got into our groups and went to different places in the school in order to perform and record our skits on a recording device. When we got back to class, Mr. Olivo took all of the recordings and downloaded them onto his computer. After all the groups returned to the classroom, we passed in one group members script with the eliminations on it.

    Then, we watched the scene that we had been rehearsing for the past week, but in one of the movies. While watching the movie, I realized that so many Shakespeare’s original words on the script were cut by the actors and actresses. These words were cut to shorten the scene and to only bring out the importance of the words. (Elaina S)

    Day 38 & 39 – Shaking Things Up

    Today as sad as it is Mr. Olivo could not make it to class. So instead we had a sub. Now he was a good guy a man who just wanted peace, so he insisted that we do our work quietly and collectively. He told us that today was a busy working day and that we needed to get cracking on those Romeo and Juliet plays we had to break down.

    Now with my group Sam, and Bob we worked pretty good to get a lot of those unneeded lines, but I think the most difficult part was how to know which lines you do need to keep because our judgment could be wrong.

    After a couple of minutes working on that we started to copy down word master words onto flashcards in a proper manner. This was to insure we were getting the most out of our flash cards we had to put down extra things on the word master word. For example we had to put down other endings that would fit the word like accede could also mean acceded. (Jake B)

    Day 37 – Lights, Camera, Action!

    Today was Tuesday October 27th, 2009. In English class, we did things just as normal. Went I looked at the homework board, I saw a: Memorize lines from act 3 scene 3 for friday. I knew from reading the night before act 3 scene 3 in Romeo and Juliet had lot’s of long speeches by the characters, so I was nervous at first, about memorizing all the lines. After Mr. Olivo had collected our homework and weekly letters, he told us to re-read act 3, scene 3 with our groups, pick parts for everyone, and take out all the unimportant parts, as if we were directors, making the play our own.

    Reading the play in my opinion is hard. Getting used to all the language Shakespeare uses, and how long everything is takes time to read. After my group finished, we high-lited all of the things we thought were important in scene, and threw out all the ones that repeated itself, or didn’t show what the scene was really about. The three characters in this scene are the Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and Romeo. This is the part when Romeo has just slain Tybalt, and has hidden in friar Lawrence’s cell after being banished from Verona, and the nurse tells him to go see Juliet. This scene has lot’s of foreshadowing as to what kind of things are coming up, and they plan they are going to make to get Romeo back into Verona.

    Really just our normal english class, but we’re starting to find the really important parts of all the scenes, almost like directors who make their own versions of Romeo and Juliet. Lights, Camera, Action! (Hannah L)

    Day 36 – In Love With Night

    Below is a Wordle of the descriptions of “Night” that everyone did for homework. Click on the link to see a larger image. — Mr. O. Night Wordle
    Today, as usual, Mr. Olivo passed out our Weekly Letters and any other slips in case you did an assignment incorrectly. Then we talked about the homework, especially the anytime this week homework. This week, we have to write a summary, like always, and then write a passage describing a character in Romeo and Juliet. Right afterwards, we had to read Juliet’s speech in Act 3 Scene 2. We read this with our partner who we were sitting next to.

    After reading, we talked about the word repetition. Because, in the speech, the author repeats the word “night” a lot. So therefore, we had to write a list about all the describers of night. Luckily, our homework on Friday was very similar, so it was a very easy task. When everyone finished reading, together we each shared a good describer of night.

    We later had to go back into the speech and find lines which used the word “night” or just expressed the idea of night. Again we worked with our partner who sat next to us. When completing this task, we again shared the lines that we found, and we had to figure out what the author was trying to tell us about night.

    As a class, we realized that the author was describing night as a time of romance, and that Juliet was very impatient and excited for night, because then she would get to see Romeo. Lastly, we had to take out our weekly letters again to make an edit about when grade’s close, and as we were doing this, the bell rang. (Kasey L)

    Day 35 – Marry, ‘Tis Enough

    English class today was pretty fun and entertaining. As we walked into class and the bell rang, we copied down our homework which was to write a descriptive poem about “night”, and to finish anytime this week homework. After Mr. Olivo explained the homework he picked four random people as an example of what our tableaux are supposed to be like. Once we saw the example, he told us to get into our tableaux groups from yesterday and to start reciting our tableaux. For about 20 minutes the four groups practiced over and over again. When the 20 minutes was over, everyone came back in the classroom and watched each of the groups recite their tableaux’s. Each one took about two minutes, and this took almost the rest of the class. After all the groups finished, Mr. Olivo told my group, me Joanna, Brendan Leach, and Kyle to go back up and re-recite ours because ours to show what a good tableaux should look like. Once the bell rang, the day ended and I was glad to go home. (Tyler G)

    Day 34 – The Mad Blood Stirring

    Today is October 22nd and like most days, English for my, group 88, was 3rd period. When we got to class, we all got our quizzes from Wednesday back. I heard lots of people shout “I bet I failed.” It turned out that most people did better than they expected. Mr. Olivo said that the mistakes that we made were very foolish, though, and that this quiz was easier than his other quizzes. The next thing we did, after talking about the quiz answers, was get into groups of five. My group was Jen, Molly, Kevin, and Katelyn. We read through Act 3, Scene 1. The scene was a fighting scene where Romeo, Mercutio, and Tybalt are in the streets and when Romeo tries to stop them from fighting, Mercutio is stabbed. Then, we got roles in the scene and specific lines of the scene to read. My groups part is lines 36-85 or so, and my role is Benvolio. In conclusion, English today was very interesting and the scene we read was one of the best scenes that we’ve read yet. (Sam D)

    Day 33 – If You With Patient Ears Attend

    Today, we did not have an average English class. Since it was a half day, we only had two regular periods and then we went to homeroom for two periods dedicated to Core Values time. Our 1st period class was our electives, for me that would be Documentary Films. Then we went to our second period classroom to have English. Everyone was ver confused. Some teachers didn’t know. Mrs. Webster thought you went to homeroom, but Mrs. Low corrected her.

    After five to ten minutes, everyone was in the right classroom only to find out that we were taking the Romeo and Juliet quiz in our 2nd period classroom. I was in Mrs. Webster’s room. Then after about 5 minutes of brief review we got our tests handed out to us. Not knowing what to expect everyone grabbed their sheets and reviewed it.

    The first part was matching quotes with characters. Most people after the test agreed that this was the hardest part. Usually, we were focusing on what was going on in the book and trying to understand the plot with characters rather than paying the most attention to quotes. I personally struggled with this one. Mr. Olivo moseyed on in a few times to explain sections that may have seemed a bit opaque. Multiple choice questions were also present on the quiz; they had to do with the different types of language material that were in the playbook. The test was pretty difficult because Shakespeare tended to speak in a confusing way. At the end of class, not everyone was done and we strolled on over to homeroom to end our half day. (Dan S)

    Day 32 – Preparing For High School

    Today was October 20, a Tuesday. Today was a lot different, and more difficult, than most English classes. First of all, we had a sub. And second of all, I woke up at 7:00, which meant I had 20 minutes to get out the door, so I was exhausted. We got into class, got settled, and wrote down the homework. Which, by the way, has been maintained to a perfect amount.

    The sub told us our assignment, and we were sent off to get to work. Finding the definitions of the wordmasters was lengthy, but straightforward and easy. However, I thought reading Act 2 was pretty hard. We didn’t have Mr. Olivo to come and help make sense of Shakespeare’s writing every time we got that blank look on our faces, so we had to do it on our own. After a few times of reading the lines and questions repeatedly, I realized that it wasn’t too hard.

    Somehow this class represented the whole transition from 8th grade to high school, because in high school, we have to act more independent, and figure things out on our own. Despite the difficulty of the activity, I got the majority of the worksheet done before class ended. At the end of the period I packed up my books and left the room feeling accomplished and proud. (Maddie D)

    My Turn At Listing

    It’s a little over a month into this blogging experiment in class, and so far I couldn’t be happier. Well, maybe I could do without the 80 or so posts that fill my Google Reader each morning, but that’s would just mean that no one is writing. The truth is that everyone is writing and writing a lot. Don’t think I don’t know how hard everyone is working. And, that’s what I think my favorite thing about this blog is – the opportunity to share the great writing that is going on in class.

    So, to honor those of you who made me smile with your annotated lists of 7-10 items, here is my list of favorites that hit the blogs this week. (And a special shout out to Kaylee R and Jimmy C whose super terrific lists did not make it onto their blogs.)

    RECIPE FOR ENGLISH CLASS BREAD by Hannah L: I love the title, I love the idea that you can laugh and learn at the same time, and I especially love the thought of nibbling on a llama ear.

    IT’S MORE THAN WHAT MEETS THE EYE by Samantha D: Who knew?

    THE EXPENSIVE SIDE OF HOCKEY IS THE SAFE SIDE by Jake B: This is for any parent whose child is deciding between hockey and cross country. Plus anything that includes the words cranium and jock strap gets my vote.

    BRINGING BACK MEMORIES by Maddie D: Sweet and relaxing just like the rain she describes. I dare you not to smile while reading this.

    DOUBLE MEANING by Anna O: In light of all of our studying of symbolism in both Fairy Tales and Romeo and Juliet, this is a nice little discussion of how colors can represent a lot of different ideas.

    MOLLY’S SWIM SURVIVAL GUIDE by Molly E: I think some of the items on Molly’s list work well with homework, too.

    MY ANNOTATED LIST OF 7 TO 10 THINGS by Norah Connolly: Well, aside from a title that would have never passed in my class, it’s very exciting that Ms. Connolly, our librarian, decided to play along too. Shouldn’t all teachers have to do these exercises as well?

    Day 31 – They Stumble That Run Fast

    Today in English class we watched a short clip (act 2, scene 2) and read Act 2, scene 3 in Romeo and Juliet. In the play scene 2 was all about Romeo and Juliet. Romeo actually stumbled into her family’s court yard and saw Juliet on her balcony. They talk about each other’s love for the other and whether to go off and get married. In the short film Romeo walks through the Capulet’s dense yard and spots their daughter on her balcony window. He talks out loud to himself about her. Juliet does the same. She realizes that he is here and bids him to go. He explains that his love is too strong for her. The two talk and kiss. Soon Juliet’s nurse calls for her and the two promise to see each other soon. The clip was very good and helped me visualize the characters and setting. I also like to see which lines the director cuts and keeps.

    After that we read act 2, scene 3. This scene was about Fair Lawrence and Romeo talking about Romeo getting married with Juliet. We were also asked to look for personification, a metaphor, a simile, and a classical allusion. I find that by going back through the text and looking for these types of things helps me understand the play better. (Grace S)

    Day 30 – Planet Platitude

    Today in class, we took a break from reading Romeo and Juliet. We started our Wordmasters words. Mr. Olivo had rearranged the room from the strange semi-circle to boring rows again. We copied down our homework and then Mr.Olivo told us that we would be starting Wordmasters today. Naturally there were groans from all of the people in the room, including me. None of us like Wordmasters because we never end up using the words and it is hard to memorize the words. So after we found out that we would be defining the first 12 words, Mr. Olivo said that we would be working with the people in our columns. This was good because it is very hard to define 12 words on your own compared to the 3 that we would have to define in our group of 4. After we finished defining the words, we all gave each other the definitions. Mr. Olivo then quizzed us asking us questions about Romeo and Juliet using the Wordmasters words. When we went through most of the words, Mr. Olivo let us finish the class by relaxing and talking. (Anna O)

    Day 29 – Shall I Hear More

    Today was an average day in the English classroom. We started by watching the party scene in Romeo and Juliet to get a better perspective on it. We saw how the director cut out some lines to make the scene more dramatic, we saw how the director made it seem like Romeo and Juliet were talking by actions and expressions, and we saw how the director incorporated a crowd so that Romeo and Juliet kissed without people knowing who Romeo was. The movie helped make the scene come more to life than the 6 speaking characters in the book.

    Once the party ended, we discussed what happend in the movie then proceeded to a worksheet about act 2, scene 2 which is the famous balcony scene. Romeo is expressing his love for Juliet, but she is much more concerned about his safety. They discuss how they will date secretively and meet the next day. Romeo and Juliet seem as if they love each other truly even though they just met that night. Romeo and Juliet swear on themselves that they love each other. Once my group of Dave, Logan, Anthony, and I finshed the worksheet, the bell rang and I was off to art. (Chris P)

    Day 28 – Find Thy Center Out

    English class today made me really think. Mr. Olivo said that we were going to watch Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet, and I, honestly, got excited. I love comparing the play of Romeo and Juliet to the movie. We then compared the play’s Scene 4, where Mercutio makes the speech about dreams, and the movies Scene 4, which would most likely be the same. We talked about how the director of the movie interpreted this scene differently than we did.

    Then, for the majority of the class, we read Act 2, Scenes 1 and 2 with a partner. At the end of the class, Mr. Olivo came over to me and my partner, Katelyn and asked us if we thought that Romeo was in Juliet’s room talking to her and if they kissed. To close the period, we discussed how we interpreted things in the play like Romeo’s actions and stage direction because there really isn’t much stage direction in this play. In conclusion, this English class was very interesting and made me think like a director. (Sam D)

    Day 27 – But Passion Lends Them Power

    Today was Tuesday, October 13. We had a long weekend so we were all dead on our feet as it was. But the activity we did in class today really woke me up. Today for me was all about decoding Shakespeare’s writing. We developed new ways to read along to his words, and learned about the style of his writing.

    Mr. Olivo told us what a sonnet and iambic pentameter was. A sonnet is a type of poetry that has a specific rhyme scheme and is 14 lines long. Iambic pentameter is a 10 syllable line with every other syllable stressed. Learning these definitions really helped us learn how to read the writing. Before I knew it we were up and bouncing to the beat of Shakespeare’s legendary age old writing. Everyone had their own way of stressing the syllables, and when we were sent off to read the introduction, there were people yelling out words and even some (like our group) actually standing up and getting into the reading.

    I liked that we had the freedom of reading in our own style and we could decide what worked best for us individually. We have so much independence; freedom. And that’s what I love about 8th grade. (Maddie D)

    A Word About Writing was a common theme among many of the writings that I came across this weekend. Perhaps it was the addition of two “anytime this week” assignments, or perhaps it was the fact that we had our second full five-day week of the year. Whatever it was, the message was loud and clear. Homework is taking up a lot of your time.

    So, I’ll say right up front. Yes, you are all right. Homework takes a long time. It interferes with the many, many fun things that you could be doing instead. You all have busy schedules outside of school, and there is little time left for homework at the end of the day. And, sometimes it seems like we teachers gang up on you just for the fun of it.

    On your blogs there were a few thoughtful posts about the issue. Amanda wrote about how sometimes with so little time left in the day, you have to rush through your homework so much that you can’t really learn well. Anna compared the idea of needing to complete homework to a drooling dog that needs to do tricks in order to get a treat. And, Jackie wrote that having to do homework instead of hanging out with your friends is “The Excuse You Can’t Make Excuses For.

    Well, I can’t speak for others, but in my class, the fact is that writing takes time…and thought…and practice. It’s something that you need to work on at your own pace and on your own time. To me, that means outside of school — where your friends won’t distract you, where you can find a comfortable space and take breaks to think, reflect and revise, and where you take the time to explore your creativity. More importantly, though, writing is something that needs to be done with frequency and regularity.

    Doug Wilhelm, who wrote The Revealers, whom you probably have seen talk at our school sometime in the last two years, wrote recently on the importance of setting a daily goal for writing, and how meeting that goal every day provides a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I agree, and it’s partly the reason why I ask you to write so much every week.

    Last week, I asked you to write four pieces. None of them had specific due dates, and most of them could have been worked on over several days. These assignments were designed to allow you to reflect upon your work in school, connect to and reflect upon your reading, allow you opportunities to share your opinions, and most importantly provide you regular opportunities to practice on your own time, at your own pace, and without a teacher hovering over your every word. And, for the most part all of you created pieces that were well-thought out and well-written. My hope is that you can look back at what you did with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

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    Day 26 – You Kiss By The Book

    English class today was like any other day in English class. I had English first period today, so I was a little tired in class. We started off the class by Mr. Olivo telling us how to make this assignment as best as it could be if we didn’t do it yet for about fifteen minutes. After that he told us to read scene 1, act 4 of Romeo and Juliet in groups of 5 or 6. After we got into groups, Brendan B, Kyle, Marcin, Dan, Thomas, and I chose our parts and we read Act 4. Once we finished Reading, Mr. Olivo told us to rehearse the act because we were going to perform it in class. After about 20 minutes all 3 of the groups performed the act. When every group finished he picked out random kids and gave them parts. He told us to perform the act again for the class. I played Romeo. After we performed the bell rang, and we all left. I thought that this was one of the more fun classes this year because instead of reading the play and doing a worksheet about it, we got to perform which helped me understand the play a little better. (Tyler G)

    Day 25 – True, I Talk of Dreams

    October 8th 2009, just another average English class. We started off by watching the more modern version of Romeo & Juliet which makes everything that’s going on much easier to understand, while using the same language as in the book.

    After this Mr. Olivo told us groups of two and three, as usual. So, I got in a group with Jessica and Tyler, and we began to read scene 4 like we were told to. This scene was one that came along more difficult to me, because I didn’t quite understand what Mecutio was telling Romeo about dreams, and the dream that Romeo had wasn’t clear to me. Luckily, Mr. Olivo knows what he’s taking about as usual, and so do Tyler and Jessica, so they help me get that his dream was about dying alone, and Mecutio was telling him that dreams were nothing but “vain fantasy.”

    After this, it looked like we had pretty much ran out of time, and only had 5 minutes left. With these 5 minutes, we handed out folders, and got some graded papers back to put it there. I didn’t have to do much organizing in the folder seeing I’ve been just posting it all on the blog. In conclusion, that was just like another ordinary day in English. (Shannah C)

    Day 24 – Marry is the Very Theme

    Today in English class after Mr.Olivo collected any weekly letters or homeworks we began class. First, we watched scenes two and three of Romeo and Juliet. We watched a more traditional look on how the story is. Many of the directors choice was like the book, yet the movie took out the part, or moved it farther into the movie when Romeo read the letter to the servant. After we had watched the two scenes we got into our groups of four or five and began to read. We read scene three, scene three was mostly about how Paris tells Mr.Capuet tells that he would like to marry his daughter. And how Lady Capulet treats her daughter very formally, yet her maid treats Juliet like shes her own daughter.

    After we were done reading the scene we continued to work on the work sheet that had questions about the scene. Mr.Olivo walked around the room the class answering questions that any of the group had about the book. (Liz G)

    Day 23 – I Pray, Sir, Can You Read?

    Today in English, we had a interesting class.

    In the beginning,Mr. Olivo explained the homework. “Tonight’s homework is on the back board. You must write about what you think of love and marriage and to do the weekly assignments”

    Then he explained what we would be doing in class and it seemed like the period was going to last forever because we had to read more of Romeo and Juliet. We were assigned to read scene two and three. This seemed like it would take forever because it’s taken us about three days to read just scene one.

    This wasnt the case. We got into groups of about 4 or 5, and split up the reading. I had to read Romeo’s lines, which was easy because he didn’t have many.

    Along with having to read, we had to answer these questions that were very hard. They were asking questions that we had to think very hard about, almost straining our minds. It took us the whole period just to read scene two, and I’m predicting that tomorrow, we will be back in our little groups, reading scene two and doing the same exact thing.

    Finally the bell rang, and we all got up, moved our desks back to place, picked up our stuff, and left the room. (Sara H)

    Day 22 – Two Versions Both Alike in Dignity

    In English class we continued to talk about Romeo and Juliet. After Mr. Olivo passed out weekly letters and went over homework for tonight, we went over the weekend’s homework. This weekend we had to read the rest of Act 1 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet and we finished a handout about it. We also had to discuss the relationship between two characters. We went over the handout and talked more about Act 1 Scene 1. Personally the sheet helped me understand a lot more about Romeo and Juliet so far.

    After we went over that Mr. Olivo showed us two movie versions of the beginning of Act one Scene one. The first one was more traditional; the setting was a big old market and the costumes were old fashioned. The second one was more modern; the setting was a city gas station and the costumes were pretty modern. The language in both of them was the same as the one in the book. That is what we did in class today. (Jackie M)

    Day 20 & 21 – Draw If You Be Men

    Thursday and Friday were spent jumping into the very first scene of Romeo and Juliet. During the first hour, we worked with the language of the play – learning about the characters and the action and deciphering some of the puns (a joke; a play on words: the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest different meanings.). Working in groups of four to six, students read and reread the lines several times. Several times we came together and cleared up any misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

    On Friday, class was all about acting the scene. Three groups of students formed and spent most of the class figuring out and rehearsing the fight scene. After reviewing the scene, students dropped their scripts to the ground and improvised instead. Once the basic blocking was set and each character’s actions and reactions were established, the students began adding the most important lines back in to their scenes. This proved to be a valuable activity in making sure everyone understood the first 82 lines of the play.

    Day 19 – Field Trip to Merrimack Rep

    The following is a review of the play from today’s field trip, as well as two videos: highlights from the play and our reactions. It seemed that everyone had a great time, and it was very impressive how well the students represented our school. Thanks to all of you who helped with and supported this field trip.

    Today we saw Flings & Eros at Merrimack Repertory Theater in Lowell, MA. Going into this, I was skeptic about seeing it because I don’t really understand Shakespeare that well. As we were seated and saw the four Karamozav brothers, I could tell that this was going to be an interesting performance.

    I loved it! It was so funny and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I liked that the actors played many different roles. At first it was confusing to keep track of that, but after a few scenes I was used to it. They had many funny lines, which kept us interested. I’m glad that it wasn’t all in Shakespeare’s language, because then I would have no idea what’s going on! I think it was cool how they only had four people in it. That must have been a lot of work for them! They all got into character really well, especially the guy who had to act as Juliet. I think he did a great job of acting as a girl!

    The juggling was amazing! They are so talented; they made it look incredibly easy. I think it was really cool how they juggled different objects, like bowling pins and those glow in the dark balls! When they threw them to each other, I always thought that they were going to drop it, but they barely ever did! I was getting dizzy just watching it. I also liked how when they dropped it, they either made a joke out of it or just kept going with the act, instead of acting embarrassed. It made the audience think that it was supposed to happen.

    When they came out at the end to answer questions, I really enjoyed that. It helped me to better understand what actually went on in that time period of Romeo and Juliet. I didn’t realize that one of the guys, who played Zossima, just started in this group recently, but another of them, who played Dmitri, had been in it for a very long time! I could tell that they were all having fun up there, and that made me have fun, too. (Jen T.)

    Day 18 – First Day of Romeo & Juliet

    This was the very first day of our study of Romeo & Juliet, and while everyone was more excited to go on the field trip on Wednesday than to read and reread the prologue, class was still lively and entertaining. There might have been a little trepidation about attempting to read Shakespeare, but it all soon disappeared once we started our activity.

    After each class divided into three smaller reading groups of 6-8 students, we began to read the opening prologue to the play aloud in a myriad of combinations. We read all together (Pledge of Allegiance style). Then, we alternated, one word at a time. Next, we read in small phrases and chunks. Finally, we read according to the punctuation rather than the end stops of each line. Sometimes we stopped and discussed the meanings of the words and phrases, and we cleared up any misunderstandings. We read slowly, quickly, and many more ways than most students thought was physically possible. And, when we were all done, everyone seemed confident (and a little surprised) that they knew exactly what was going on.

    The goal of all of these readings was to get everyone familiar with the language, to get everyone involved, and to show that with a little repetition and thought, Shakespeare’s language can be accessible to anyone.

    Important Field Trip Reminder

    This is just to remind everyone to pack a bag lunch and something to drink for the field trip tomorrow. Our intention is to eat outside of the theater once the play is over, and we need to make sure that we can dispose of everything when we are done.

    Also, please remember to pack a snack for the morning. We will eat around 9:00am before we get on the bus, and we will not have another opportunity to eat anything until after the play is over. It is important that everyone have some nourishment before we get on the bus. We don’t want anyone passing out during the performance. Also, a loud, rumbly stomach might be distracting to the actors. Remember, they will be tossing around large (and potentially dangerous) objects when they are juggling…

    Day 15, 16 & 17 – Happily Ever After

    Wow! It’s totally not my intention to let three days go by without posting a daily summary, but with Open House, the busy half day, and a mysterious illness that caught me off guard on Thursday (fun quiz: Which two of my four classes did I actually leave to throw up during?), I’ve been unable to really attend to the blog. So, for all of you curious creatures, here’s a quick rundown of what happened the last three days.

    First of all, I’m proud to say that half the students are up on blogs and have started routinely posting their homework. For me, it’s very exciting, and I hope the students are finding it enjoyable, too. On Wednesday, we spent a little time during our shortened 22-minute classes to talk about some of the technical issues that are coming up with them. I also passed back a LOT of papers.

    On Thursday, we were back at the fairy tales trying to solidify the idea that they are symbolic stories that often represent the journey from childhood to adulthood. I took a plot chart and overlaid the symbolic stages of the journey, and suddenly, it became a lot clearer for everyone. We plotted two stories, and then I sent everyone home to read “Jack and the Beanstalk” knowing that I was secretly planning an open book quiz for Friday.

    When students came to class the next they, they were asked to apply all that we’ve discussed about fairy tales. Some of the quiz was restating ideas from previous stories, but the rest of the quiz was to apply that knowledge to “Jack and the Beanstalk” — even though we hadn’t really talked about it in class. From just a cursory look at the quizzes, everyone seems to get the general concept about symbolism and how it applies to fairy tales. So I guess for now, my work here is done.

    Now on to Romeo and Juliet next week.

    Thoughts on Email, Blogging & Facebook?

    At Open House last night, we spent a lot of time talking about many of the new tools that we’ll be using this year, and I think it’s safe to say that the ones that received the most feedback and interest from the parents who attended were emails, blogs, and Facebook.

    This year students on our 8th grade team will have their own email account through the district. This will enable them to be more connected to the classrooms outside of school as well as provide greater access to online tools and programs that will enhance their learning and teach the 21st Century Skills they’ll need for the future. We’re also currently setting up blog accounts for students so that they can maintain a portable, electronic portfolio of all their work and also to provide a more public and accessible way to invite feedback and peer review. Finally, Mr. Musselman is using Facebook to disseminate information and to extend conversations about science outside of the classroom.

    Throughout the evening we heard a lot of comments and opinions about what we’re trying to do this year. Many people seemed supportive, but just as many seemed uneasy with the amount of time students would be online and with the potential problems that could result. Believe me, we are aware of the potential for bullying, or the possibilities of receiving inappropriate comments on blogs, or that students may habitually misuse their email accounts, or the dangers that come with Facebook, or the management and oversight of nearly 100 student accounts. We get it. However, we also believe in the benefits of providing positive examples of how to use these tools properly and in the teachable moments when problems occur.

    We’d like to get a sense of what you all are thinking — parents, students, and teachers alike. If you have an opinion, please take some time to comment so that we may start the conversation.

    Our Field Trip to Merrimack Rep

    FKB2Next Wednesday, Sept. 30th is our trip to Merrimack Repertory Theater in Lowell to see Flings and Eros, a creative retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and I have to say that I’m more than excited. Not only is it a field trip to go see live theater (something we never do nearly enough), not only is it related to Shakespeare (which is just high brow enough for people to go, “ooooh”), not only is it Romeo and Juliet (which totally fits the 8th grade curriculum — you can’t imagine how hard it is to find something that fits), but it’s also the Flying Karamazov Brothers (juggling!!). I mean even if every inch of your bones and every pore of your skin despises the idea of sitting through a Shakespearean play, you can’t deny that juggling makes anything fun.

    The idea of the play is that the Flying Karamazov Brothers, a world famous juggling troupe, is holding an open dress rehearsal of their version of Romeo & Juliet. So, essentially, it’s a play within a play, and the actors will switch between their own characters and the characters in the play frequently. It would be great if we could have finished reading the play before heading off to Lowell to see it, but I think everyone will still understand what’s going on pretty well. And it should be super fast paced so everyone will be completely involved in the action.

    We’ll leave Parker around 9:30am in order to be seated in the theater for showtime at 10:30am. We’ll make sure to have a little snack before we get on the bus, so it would be a good idea if everyone could bring something in to eat — especially since we won’t be out of the play until around 1:00pm. If it’s a nice day out, we’ll be able to sit on the grounds of Merrimack Rep to eat a bag lunch. If not, we’ll get on the bus and eat in the classrooms once we return to school. Either way, it’s important to bring a bag lunch, something to drink, and a snack.

    Day 13 & 14 – Cinderella

    The last two days have been spent reading two versions of “Cinderella.” Before we got into the first one, we reviewed what we’ve learned about fairy tales — that they are highly symbolic coming of age stories that represent they journey from childhood to adulthood. Because “Briar Rose” and “Beauty and the Beast” both fit this idea, we assumed that “Cinderella” would also do the same.

    We began by reading a version by Charles Perrault that seemed to have more in common with the Disney movies than anything we’ve read so far. While reading, the object was to note places that seem to have symbolic significance to the journey from a child to an adult. The second version by the Brothers Grimm turned out to be much more grisly with the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet and later having their eyes pecked out by pigeons.

    After, we were to fill out a chart that detailed the differences between each version in a number of key areas such as the importance of Cinderellas mother, the role of the prince, and the way Cinderella’s wishes are fulfilled. For homework, we were to write a response that describes her symbolic journey into adulthood and compare it to that of either Briar Rose’s or Beauty’s journey.

    Day 12 – Introductions & Symbols

    Today’s class was split into two parts. The first part was to review the homework that everyone wrote for “Beauty and the Beast.” Specifically, we spent time looking at the introductions. We worked in both pairs and small groups to review the introductions from a few papers, and we had to decide what was done well and what could have been improved. Then, a person from each group brought the paper up to the front of the room to put under the document camera and we discussed it as a class. In general, everyone did a nice job of creating an interesting grabber and connecting to the topic of the assignment.

    The next part of class was for reviewing the definition of a symbol in literature. Some people were confusing the terms symbol and theme, and Mr. Olivo made a point of saying that a theme is an author’s idea about something, and a symbol is merely a comparison. We stayed in our groups to discuss the answers to the homework (How did Beauty’s relationships with her father and the beast change in the story? What was important symbolically about these changes?) We decided that as Beauty grew closer to the beast, she also grew apart from her father – even though she still loved him dearly. We also decided that this symbolized the journey from childhood to adulthood.

    Day 11 – Potpourri Day

    Even with the best intentions for planning, things rarely line up the way you’d like. That’s why on Thursday morning when I realized one group was a whole class ahead, two groups still needed to finish up their photo introduction projects, and one group had hardly gotten off the ground, I decided to book the computer lab in the Library. And, when the 25 minute fire drill came later in the morning, disrupting one class almost entirely, I was glad that I prepared a potpourri day — you know, the day that you make a crazy, random dinner with all of the leftovers in the fridge.

    So, today two groups were able to finish up their photograph introduction projects. They look really nice and will seem even more impressive when they are hung up en masse for Tuesday night’s Open House. A third group still needs a lot more time to complete them, but I think a FLEX period should be able to take care of that.

    The last group, who had been pretty far ahead, was able to experiment today with email and blogs. It’s a great new feature this year in the district that students are being provided with their own email address to be used for schoolwork, and this was one of the very first classes to register them. Once armed with their new emails, the class was able to sign up for a blog account with Edublogs. Soon students will be able to post their assignments straight to their blog, and there will be greater opportunities for teachers and other classmates to provide feedback. I’m excited to see how this plays out through the year because I think it’s a fantastic learning opportunity that will serve them well in the future.