English 6, 2014 - 2015

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  • Literature Circles books—Fantasy Genre, Science Fiction Genre, Myth Genre, and (Dis)Abilities & Empathy Theme Unit (see documents at bottom here that list book choices)
  • Online EcoReader of nonfiction readings
  • Catlin Gabel School Writer’s Handbook—Alan Hodara and Carter Latendresse
  • Totally Joe—James Howe
  • The Wednesday Wars—Gary Schmidt
  • Understanding the Holy Land—Mitch Frank or Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak—Deborah Ellis
  • Habibi—Naomi Shihab Nye



You will read texts in various genres of literature including short story, poetry, essay (descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive), and novel. Several of the reading selection choices included in the above literature circle lists are considered “classics,” and all were chosen with an eye on issues of environmental sustainability, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic class, and cultural diversity as they exist in our contemporary world.

While reading, you will develop your skills in a variety of areas. You will strengthen your literal comprehension of texts as well as your interpretive skills. You will be able to make inferences from a text based on tone, imagery, and figurative language, for example. You will better understand how a text is structured and how an author employs story elements. You will more easily connect the meaning(s) of a text to life. Your note taking and summarization skills will improve, as will your spelling, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills. You will do a fair bit of notetaking and journaling in a Haiku Wiki and Google Drive formats on the Inside.Catlin site. There you will focus mainly on the following as you read: what you know and what you don’t know; connecting the text to a memory or experience; questions you have while reading; what matters and what doesn’t in the reading, and what’s so important that you should remember it; predictions you make; conclusions you draw; scenes, characters, and settings you visualize; decoding and word analysis; and when your understanding of the text changes.

Of the eight major texts you will read this year, four will be read in the literature circles format. Literature circles is an innovative method of reading instruction that employs the following principles:

  1. Students choose their own reading materials from a list of about 60 books.
  2. Small temporary groups are formed for three weeks, based on book choice.
  3. Different groups read different books.
  4. Groups meet on a regular, predictable schedule to discuss their reading.
  5. Students use written or drawn notes—randomly selected Role Sheets—to guide both their reading and discussion.
  6. Discussion topics come from the students.
  7. Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections, digression, and open-ended questions are welcome.
  8. The teacher serves as a facilitator, not a group member or instructor.
  9. Evaluation is by daily homework, weekly quizzes, teacher observation, a literary analysis paper, a final project, peer-evaluation, and student self-evaluations.
  10. A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.
  11. When books are finished after three weeks, groups present their analyses of the book to their classmates in the form of a project, and then new groups form around new reading choices.

In these ways and others each reader in this class will construct the meaning of a given text. You will draw on personal experiences through interactions with a text and will share your interpretations with others. You will also come to appreciate other possible readings of texts from other valid viewpoints. We will thereby arrive at increasingly complex understandings of the possible meaning(s) of a text. As much as possible in this class we will seek to connect all reading material to our actual lives so that we might come to know each other and ourselves better.


The writing portion of English 6 is based on the following seven principles: 1) Writers need regular chunks of time to think, write, confer with one another and their teacher, read, change their minds, and write some more; 2) Writers need to write about topics that interest them; 3) Writers need response that comes during—not after—the composing; 4) Writers learns mechanics in context, from teachers who address errors as they occur within individual pieces of writing, where these rules and forms will have meaning; 5) Students need to know adults who write. Teachers therefore need to write, share our writing with our students, and demonstrate what experienced writers do in the process of composing; 6) Writers need regular chunks of time to read a wide range of literature; and 7) Writing teachers need to take responsibility for their knowledge and teaching. We must seek out professional resources that reflect the far-reaching conclusions of recent research into adolescent writing.

In English you will experience writing as a process in which each stage is valued individually and as inherent to the process. PREWRITING is any activity that precedes drafting that helps writers find topics. DRAFTING is tentative, exploratory writing, done for oneself or a trusted, familiar audience. It can be messy, boring, riddled with errors, for drafting is just a beginning, a place for writers to work their way into topics. RESPONDING is a reaction to a draft, usually done in our classes by peer responders. REVISING occurs once students go through responding conferences with their peers. While EDITING students shift their focus from content to style. During PROOFREADING we focus on mechanics such as spelling, syntax, usage, punctuation, and grammar. This helps keep it in perspective, following content. Finally, we PUBLISH our pieces, which involves activities as various as reading a piece aloud to the class to sending it away to publications for more formal publication.

All written assignments will be drafted in Google Drive and saved to student folders there. This fact will smooth the home-to-school connection, as you will be able to work securely on your English writing assignments on any computer with internet connectivity. We spend the first few weeks of class teaching Google Drive, so not to worry about learning a whole new platform. All major papers must also be printed and turned in following MLA publishing conventions: word processed in black ink, using 12-point Times font, double spacing between lines, and one-inch margins.

This year you will produce a personal Heroic Journey Anthology of your 6th grade academic year that you will take home at the end of the year. The anthology will include the majority of the writing and art you produce this year in English, therefore it is imperative you keep these final pieces in good order. Please try to save all writing done for English 6 this year on a computer at home, as well as on Google Drive.

Vocabulary, Grammar, and Spelling Enrichment

To promote large-scale vocabulary growth, reading time and reading volume will both be increased from your fifth grade year. There will be explicit vocabulary instruction of words that are conceptually difficult, are in a group of words related to each other or a topic, and which are important to the meaning of our text or to general utility of language. The vocabulary words chosen for explicit instruction will be taken from our study of literature. There will be exercises, study sessions, and quizzes.

Grammar will be taught on a daily basis as a tool for writing improvement. We will be using a grammar and usage photocopied handbook as both a guide and reference while learning grammar. Students should keep their notes and the handbook in their possession at all times. I will teach lessons out of the handbook on the terms and concepts needed to understand the structure of the sentence. We will also use the handbook as a reference when dealing with specific questions that come up during the editing stage of the writing process.

Garden, Honeybee, and Apple Orchard Lessons

The sixth grade year also provides students with the opportunity to go outside and work in the garden, greenhouse, honeybee hives, and apple orchard. The sixth grade team is in charge of two major Catlin Gabel events: the apple orchard harvest in the fall and the Spring Festival plant sale fundraiser in the spring. Sixth grade teachers work together to teach a variety of interdisciplinary lessons on such topics as seed collection, photosynthesis, pollination, wheat harvesting in Mesopotamia, pizza baking in the garden cob oven, apple tree grafting, sweetness in apples, ancient grains, beekeeping, and cooking with corn. Students grow food for the lunch salad bar in the Barn, and they learn how to compost back into the garden to complete the circle. This year the students not only see and hear the fruits of the labor; they taste them too.


Assessment is done with the end in mind. The summative assessment is the culminating task that will require students to draw upon the skills and concepts they have developed throughout the unit in order to demonstrate their understanding. First, I identify the desired results. I begin by asking what I want students to understand and what I want students to be able to do. I explore the essential questions and themes. I consider content standards. I connect my lessons with interdisciplinary planning to those lessons of my colleagues. I plumb teacher and student interest. Next, I determine acceptable evidence. I ask myself, how will I know if the students have achieved the desired results and have met the standards? I then determine what I will accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency. I decide that I will use a range of assessment methods, from informal to formal assessments during a unit. Informal assessments include classroom observations, work samples, and dialogues. Formal assessments include projects, papers, quizzes, tests, and other work samples. Peer assessment and student self-evaluations round out both the informal and formal types of assessment.

In general, unit work—classroom discussion, homework, and in-class assignments—counts for around 25% of my assessment. Quizzes count for around another 25%. Papers and projects count for the remaining 50%. These numbers are estimates, however.




Photo Gallery: 
In the Ganges
In the Ganges
In the redwoods
In the redwoods
With my kids, 2014
With my kids, 2014