Thursday, February 14, 2019


Last week students at Seabury Middle School were asked to choose between two statements about community, and defend the idea in five sentences, using examples and evidence. Here are the statements:

Communities function well when everyone looks out only for their own best interests.

A well functioning community has members who perform acts of service that do not benefit them immediately.

Here are a few of our brilliant, sensitive, and justice oriented students' responses:

A community requires a group of people to collaborate, support each other, and be a family. A kind of example would be the Monkeyshines we were looking for yesterday. All the artists work really hard to make thousands of beautiful pieces and create a really amazing community activity, that gets people to have fun in Tacoma. If people look out for their own self-interests, its way harder (but not impossible) to contribute something really meaningful to a community. When we all help the community together a lot of really great things happen.

I think a functioning community has many members who perform acts of service to better the whole community and not their own immediate best interests. If a community was like this it would function better and be a better place to live. You could ask someone to work on something for you while you work on something for them. Everyone is happy. Things, ideas, and projects would happen more quickly, and once it is done you can work on yourself or something else. 

People sometimes are unable to help themselves. So, only the people that could would be good in the first statement. So, it wouldn't be the best community.

If everyone only looked out for themselves, we would not have a good life. There would be litter everywhere. The oceans would be filled with plastic. People would keep cutting down trees and killing animals. If we didn't follow the second statement, we would die.

Following the first statement would cause chaos, while that is what we do now, everyone seems to be at each other's throats at all times. If our attitude can shift from the first statement to the second, we would be far more functional as a whole. If everyone is only out for their best interests, trusting and functional relationships are hard to form. If a whole community is doing acts of service to better it as a whole, the community will be in a far better place. 

People need to work together in order for a community to work.

If everyone only supports their idea, we will have a very less social community, and some won't even achieve their goal, because they don't have help.

When people show empathy for each other and their community, that community will rise above others that only look after their individual citizens, and the community will become a welcoming and safe place for people to live.

If everyone in the community acts for other people, then no one will be looking out for themselves, and no one will care about his/her/other self. In this instance everyone will be depressed because of lack of self respect, and the world will descend into chaos.

If you're sick, you can't come to school sick because you don't want to miss school, because it puts others in danger. 
You might want to yell at someone to alleviate anger, but that makes others feel bad.
Be nice to others because people will think you're a jerk if you aren't. 



Sunday, February 10, 2019

Leading First Friday Gathering

The first Friday of each month, the middle school heads to the lower school campus. It is a great opportunity for the middle school students to be role models and consider their role in a larger community. 

The middle school leads about half of the first Friday gatherings. They plan and organize the assembly. During the actual event, the students lead the assembly, practicing valuable public speaking skills. After they lead gathering and help with the craft and design projects, the middle schools students work with Seabury's youngest students. You can Mrs. West's blog post about the middle schoolers working with the ladybugs in January here. You have to scroll through a few pictures to get to the ones with the middle schoolers. 

Thank you to Kiefer and Ari for leading on February 1st!

This month, the middle school students shared information about genetics, genealogy, and family stories, which have been the main focus of J-Term.

They also plan brain breaks, like songs, games, and other brain-stretching activities.

They also shared information about Monkeyshines, a Tacoma event we were able to participate in.

Thank you to all of the students who took on leadership roles to put together a terrific assembly!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Seabury's Writers Use Mentor Texts to Hone Their Craft

Recently, a colleague told me a story about how young artists can improve their
sketches by looking closely at the thing they are being asked to draw. By asking
questions about a leaf they are trying to draw, for example, and seeking the
answers in the leaf, students' drawings grow to include the correct number of veins
and the right length from the tip to the petiole. Through revisions and consulting the
mentor text (the original leaf), the image of the leaf the child is drawing slowly
becomes a leaf recognizable to all viewers.

This growth comes through struggle, through attention to detail, through effort,
and through revision.

This week, in English class, the Seabury Middle School students have been
attending to detail in an effort to hone their writing skills. Collectively, we read
award winning feature stories written and annotated for journalism students
by Jon Franklin. Individually, students selected Pulitzer prize winning feature stories
that interested them. With both our group texts and the individual texts,
students had a clear purpose in mind for their reading: they were to read like writers.

Here are some of the tips the students discovered from analyzing the choices
the award winning journalists made:

1) Establish time, mood, place, and character early in a story--like in
the first few sentences.

2) Flashbacks can be really useful. Try not to have more than one per story.

3) When you want to move forward in time, but you have to skip ahead,
use the weather (for seasons), a comment about months or years passing,
or some other transition. Do not ignore the fact that your reader needs to
know when the story is happening. If you have to be overt, be overt.

4) Add details so your reader can imagine being there.

5) Make your reader care about your character. One way to do this is
to make the reader feel what the character is feeling.

6) Use suspense to add drama. Shorter sentences can sometimes make a
scene feel more suspenseful. So can reminders about the time or some ending

7) Weave symbols throughout the story instead of just plonking them in.
(This might be easier done in revision).

8) The complication (the central problem for the character) and the resolution
have to match up.

9) Try not to make too many assumptions about what the reader already knows.
It is okay to give the reader some background knowledge.

10) Stick to the truth, but know how to use background knowledge to embellish
with accuracy.

Students reverse outlined the major complications and resolutions in each of their
stories and looked at the outlines Franklin provided. Students will spend more
time discovering how to shape their stories next week when they begin outlining in earnest.

The students have also selected sentences that they admire from the articles
that we read, and we will analyze those sentences more closely when we get
to the revision and/or editing steps of the writing process. We will return to the
mentor texts throughout the writing process, just like the young artists. Our goal,
though, is not to duplicate content so much as to learn about organization and style
and know what options are available for the students' own writing.

At times, inquiry is broad and expansive, and at times it is narrow. Asking what
we can learn from mentor texts is an important type of inquiry. Students know
what appeals to them in the writing; they know what seems to be working.
Asking questions about why and how improves their questioning skills, their
reading skills, and their writing skills.

When students received this assignment, I asked them what they needed to do
in order to be able to write a feature story, and reading successful examples
was one of their ideas. In this way, the students took ownership over their
own learning, and they used inquiry to improve their writing.