2nd Semester!Posted by Erica Mercker on 1/29/2018
Welcome to 2nd semester! Last week in ELA, students took some time to reflect on the fact that they’ve made it through their first semester of middle school, and have gained no small amount of knowledge and wisdom along the way. For some, the shift from 5th to 6th grade is jolting, and it’s not until this time of the year that things can really start moving full steam ahead. I hope you and your child have had some opportunity to reflect together on the things they’ve learned - not just content, but habits and ways of thinking.
Along these lines, I’d like to remind you of the Growth Mindset page on my website, which has resources for parents about how to encourage a growth mindset in your child. Having a mind to persevere and accept challenges as learning opportunities is one of the greatest determiners of success in a person’s life.
Grades vs. Learning
I’ll tell you what I’ve told the kids: As the report cards arrive in the next week or so, let’s keep a reasonable perspective about grades. Grades are just one factor in the big picture of education. A traditional grading system tends to falls short in measuring some of the most important skills that kids will need as they grow into responsible adults that contribute to the well-being of their communities. Don’t get me wrong - the online gradebook is a useful tool for communication between teacher and parent. However, I encourage you all to be focused on the LEARNING, not the grades. For example, instead of just asking “What are your homework assignments?” each night, try asking, “What are some new things you learned today?” and. “How do you plan to practice what you’ve learned so it becomes a skill?” If the answer is "nothing," that's a bigger red flag than an M in the gradebook. That's a sign your child is disengaged in learning, and something needs fixing. I know many of you already do this. I just figure, we ALL (even I, the teacher!) need these reminders now and then.
A love of Reading
We just wrapped up my favorite unit of the year: a literary analysis unit on the novel Walk Two Moons. What I love so much about this unit is the way that just about every student can’t HELP but get into the story. In fact, several students have come up to me and said that YOU, parents, are now going to read the book because of what they’ve told you about it. My heart nearly explodes with joy when I hear that! This is how I know that there’s no such thing as a kid who “doesn’t like reading.” Sometimes, it’s just about finding the right kind of story - and even better, finding someone with whom you can talk about that story. With that in mind, I have a challenge* for all you parents: Find a book to read WITH your child. Our next independent reading genre study is Historical Fiction. Is there a historical event that interests you? Can you find a novel (fictional story) that is based on that true event in history and that also suits your child’s reading level? How cool would it be to read a book together again?!
*If you’d like to do this, please let me hear about it! If you’re not sure where to start a book search, please email me and I’ll try to offer suggestions.
November UpdatesPosted by Erica Mercker on 11/9/2017
Hi folks! Here's what's happening in ELA lately:
SpringBoard Unit 2 Assessments: Essay, then Test
Next week, students will begin planning and drafting their final explanatory essay for SpringBoard Unit 2. This essay is a summative assessment, so it will have the heaviest impact on their grade of all assignments/test so far this semester. We have been gathering information from a variety of sources about the topic. We've reviewed the essay prompt so many times in class they should have it memorized! (Seriously. Quiz them on it. Here's the prompt: Write a multi-paragraph explanatory essay explaining how human beings can enhance their lives by observing and interacting with animals.)
One of these sources is the film Temple Grandin. You may have heard about it from your child. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching it! It is valuable for so much more than the limited evidence collection we are focusing on in class.
Sometime after the Thanksgiving break, there will also be a summative test on the concepts covered in Unit 2. Stay tuned for more information on that when it gets closer.
Wondering how your child is performing beyond the gradebook? Part of encouraging a growth mindset and developing resilient learners is focusing on soft skills like responsibility, attentiveness, helpfulness, and persistence. In ELA we've started monitoring positive and not-so-positive classroom behaviors using Class Dojo. Several parents have signed up already to receive notifications and individualized updates about how kids are doing with these soft skills. Students took home fliers a little over a week ago with information on how to sign up. In case that never made it to your hands, keep your eyes out for an email from Class Dojo with information on how to sign up. I'll send it over the weekend or early next week.
Reading Project Reminders
The current genre study is biography/autobiography or memoir. Who is your child learning about? What's their plan for finishing the project before the deadline on November 28th?
Conference Week and Other NewsPosted by Erica Mercker on 10/18/2017
This week in ELA
- The Greek & Latin roots TEST (roots only) is on Friday. See the post below for more information and links for study lists.
- Students have been drafting a practice explanatory essay about change. This should be/have been finished in class but some students may choose to work on it some more at home. The point of this practice essay is to go through the whole writing process and to review the necessary elements of an explanatory essay. This practice essay will count as a formative assessment grade; the summative essay will come at the end of the unit in a few more weeks.
Next week: Conference Week!
- I hope to meet with each of you sometime next week to discuss your child's accomplishments and any areas of concern we might have. I will be available during all 6 sessions:
- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 1-3pm.
- Monday & Wednesday; 5-7pm.
- Early Release days mean short periods, and a break from routine. The 6th grade ELA team is using this opportunity to deliver "Interim Assessment Blocks" (IABs) as baseline assessments for the SBA that comes in the springtime. This will provide us with invaluable data on student skills and help us make important decisions about curriculum for the rest of the year.
- No Greek and Latin roots practice or AoW next week.
- The only homework will be for students to read and to catch up on missing work. Many students still need to finish their realistic fiction genre study project; this is due on October 31st.
- Unless I have a meeting, I am going to be available every Tuesday after school (besides next Tuesday, of course) for students to come in and catch up or get help with work. I can help with ELA assignments and organization skills.
- I can also be available other times before/after school if we set up an appointment.
- There is an activity bus at 4:00 that students can take if they normally ride the bus home.
- Bottom line: I want your child to succeed in my class! Please encourage them to ask for help if they are struggling with any aspect of it.
Early October UpdatesPosted by Erica Mercker on 10/6/2017
Independent Reading Projects / Genre Study
Currently, your child should be reading a novel in the genre of Realistic Fiction. The first project is due on October 31st. Check the Independent Reading Projects page for more information.
SpringBoard Unit 2
SpringBoard is the textbook we use in ELA class, and students got their copies this week. We are starting in the middle of the book with a unit on explanatory writing. The summative assessment for this unit will be an essay written in class, and will take place in about a month. In class this week, students completed a baseline writing assessment. They will receive feedback on their writing skills and use that feedback to set goals for the unit. See more about SpringBoard units and resources here.
Article of the Week
As you know by know, this is a weekly assignment that's handed out on Monday and due by Friday. (Next week, it will be due by Thursday). Each month, we will shift the focus of the reading and writing skills practiced with the article. Therefore, the instructions will vary slightly. I will always walk them through the instructions in class, but it never hurts to have them read all directions again at home when they are working on it. Thanks for your help with that!
See more about the AoW assignment, including archives, on the Article of the Week page.
Greek and Latin roots TEST
Next week, we'll complete the fifth unit of Greek and Latin roots vocabulary. After every fifth unit, it's time for a cumulative TEST on the ROOTS ONLY. That test will take place on Friday, October 20. This will be the first summative assessment (summative assessments are worth 70% of the total grade) so it will have a big impact on their current grade. The test will cover the 15 roots we've studied so far. Students will need to write down the meaning of each of the 15 roots from memory. The goal is for students to remember these roots for months and years to come, so that when they come across unfamiliar words that contain the roots, they might have a better chance of making sense of those unfamiliar words. Therefore, this is one area where I encourage rote memorization.
Most students have caught on by now that at bit of studying at home is required to be successful on the weekly quizzes. Want to help them avoid a stressful cramming session the night before the test? Help them remember to review a little bit each day, they are far more likely to remember the information long term, and that will make the unit tests much easier.
Please mark your calendars for conferences (10/23-10/26) and stay tuned for more specific information from the school. I would love to meet with you and I plan to be there for all sessions.
Other info and tips:
Worried about your child's grade?
We are far enough into the semester that you might be able to notice some general trends. If your child is missing several assignments or failing every quiz, it might be time for us to partner up and figure out some ways to help. Please reach out to me if you want to meet or have a chat over the phone.
Worried about your child's organizational skills and task management?
First, instead of asking, “Do you have homework?”, try asking “What is your homework tonight/this week?” and follow it with a glance in their Ike pages (planner). If they don’t have anything written down, it means they forgot to write it down class, not that they don’t have homework. I ask students to write in their planners every day, and I believe a majority of their 6th grade teachers do the same. If this remembering to do this seems to be a problem for them, perhaps you can set up a reward system for them if they do remember. (I personally have mixed feelings about extrinsic rewards for basic responsibilities, but many parents find this strategy helpful.)
I am also more than happy to help set up an organizational system for the binder that goes home and the ELA binder, which stays in class. I’m hoping to arrange an after school session in the near future for students who need some help getting a system in place. Stay tuned!
Welcome to ELA 6!Posted by Erica Mercker on 9/8/2017
I've created this blog to post updates about what is happening in room C118. I want to keep you in the loop about projects, events, assessments, our focus of study, and ways you can support your child in ELA. (You can also sign up for occasional updates via text or email through Remind.com, if you haven't already. Instructions to sign up are here.)
For some, the first semester of 6th grade is a difficult adjustment. One of my goals is to help students learn to be self advocates in their own learning, which means learning how to ask for help when it's needed, taking initiative to communicate questions or concerns, and keeping track of work and grades (including missing work and absences).
Along these lines, I want to reiterate a couple of expectations I have already shared with the students:
- After an absence, students must remember to check the "While You Were Away" Binder for assignments and handouts they missed. They should ask their classmates to fill them in on important details, and should come to me with any remaining questions or concerns. I am happy to set up a time before or after school to review missed lessons, should they feel they are falling behind.
- I post the daily agenda and assignments on the overhead and whiteboard, and encourage students to write these things down in their planners. Your child should be able to show you these details on any given day.
- Typically, students will receive only two weekly assignments from me: a Greek & Latin Roots packet, and an Article of the Week. There may also be the occasional handout to finish at home if it wasn't completed in class.
- Aside from this, I expect every student to read from a book of their choice for 20-30 minutes per night. The best way to get better at reading AND writing is to READ!
My greatest hope is for students to learn to navigate school and life with responsibility and maturity, all while maintaining the joy of learning that seems strongest in childhood. Thank you for your continued support of your child in this process; I have really enjoyed getting to know each and every one of my students, and will continue to nurture their academic and personal growth as best I am able!
All the best,