Mr. Wittman's Page                            


June 9th, 2014.  THANK YOU to all who showed grit and good humor throughout the year.  Whether you are my student, or one of his or her supporters, I admire you, and I am grateful for your trust, your imagination, and your hard work.  I just finished reading the final reflections (prompts can be found below), and I thought some of you might appreciate reading some of the responses that made me smile.  My future partners in educating these talented SLO kids might like to see them, too:

On writing:

“I structure it more, put more meaning into my writing, and I support my points better.”


“…my style became more straightforward and direct.”


“The thing that I improved the most on would be how quickly I get to the point.”


“…all the sub-arguments would add up to prove my thesis.”


“One of the key changes in my writing has been having a stronger argument throughout my essays…able to take an average argument and ask myself how and why these things happen and develop a stronger argument.  Now that I can do this, I can make all of my writing stronger.”


“Another change in my writing has been that I am using a lot more direct evidence or quotes to support arguments.  It has made my papers a lot stronger.”


“I have been putting more detail into my paragraphs each time I write…using language that makes my work more clear.”


“My writing has gotten much more organized throughout the year and my thesis statements have become much more precise and clear.”


“I noticed that I have ‘dug deeper’ a little more…come to be clearer when defending or stating something.”


“My essays at the end of the year had stronger theses and more of the support was directly related to my thesis.”


“…long summaries included in my first works disappeared in later works creating more focus on the thesis.”


“…making sure that the entire paper has one thesis and that all the parts of the writing support that single point.  This is most important because when everything is working at a single idea, the reader sees more clearly why the work was written.”


“I now realize that the thesis is the basis of my whole paper, and that I cannot just go with the first thing that comes to my mind.”


“Without a valid thesis, all you are doing is stringing the reader on, probably not having a plan where you are going next.”


“I developed a stronger thesis so my paper flows better…I had better format and paragraphing in my last few papers than I did earlier in the year…my conclusion of my last lit. analysis paper was stronger and linked to my thesis more than all my earlier papers.  The fact that I learned how to finally come up with strong, fully baked theses was really important.”


“…in the beginning I loved words too much and didn’t really need most of them, and then I started saying what I actually meant.”


On reading AND writing:

“I improved the most on creating worthwhile thesis statements.  I learned to search for clues about what the author is conveying, and putting the pieces together to create great literature.”


“A strong thesis makes for a strong paper…the skill I most improved this year…from the short story connection essay, when I barely knew what a thesis was, to my last literary analysis essay when I stated the how and the why clearly in my thesis.”


“I started to dig deeper and elaborate/expand with my thesis.”


“This year I worked on saying what I mean and backing it up with evidence.  I also worked on trying to find the deepest meaning of a book.”


“…learning to write multiple drafts until one’s ideas are complete concise, taking examples out of the literature to support ideas with evidence to construct a stronger argument.”


“The previous nights before the exam, I looked up summaries and notes on the two novels, attempting to brainstorm ideas.  When the day of the exam arrived, I felt prepared, managed my time well, and concluded by the end of the period.”


“…most important was that I learned how to write a deep thesis…really finding good support for those theses from the writing I was studying, and finding connections from my own life to the writing.”


“I learned how to look harder and find anything that could help support what I thought was the main theme of the story.”


“I was finally able to make a good, solid paper by the end of the school year.”


On reading:

“I think that the first step is to understand the character’s situation and

evaluate all the characters, then read into all the metaphors/symbol. I think

that figuring out the metaphors is the most important because that way you

really understand the theme of the book!”


“Juana is one tough woman and shows young girls to be strong and brave.”


On speaking:

“I made sure I interacted with the audience…to have them think about my topic.  The speech had accurate evidence, and I made sure it proved my point.  Overall, this was my most proud moment of my English year.”



General info (look directly below the boxed text for recent updates/announcements/assignments):
Greetings!  I hope this website helps you keep up with what we did, what we do, and what we will do in English this year.  I have made myself a goal of keeping this site up to date.  I’ll see what I might need to add or change at least once a week.  Please understand, however, that once I begin collecting papers, I am on a relentless treadmill and I devote much of my time to carefully critiquing and generating feedback on those papers.  Much of my time.  My first promise is to teach kids how to write powerfully, so the website gets pushed aside sometimes.  Honest communication between student and parent/guardian, and use of the student planner, are the best bets for keeping everyone up to date with what’s happening in class.  If anyone feels that they are not getting all of the information he or she needs from class or this site, email is the best avenue for reaching me with questions/concerns.  The phone is difficult.  Conferences are good.

If you miss a Monday with a spelling pretest, open the document Spelling lists and vocabulary exercises and complete the vocabulary exercises.  Study the words and take all 20 on Friday’s test in class.  If you miss a Friday with a spelling test, have a responsible person at home dictate the words to you and take the test at home.  The person at home signs the test, you staple it to your pretest and submit both to the in-box upon your return.


Grades: Check Powerschool link on the Laguna Middle School website please, .

What can you do to raise your grade?
1.  Keep up during class time; take advantage of every minute because ideas written about and discussed in class are the same ones I'm looking for in essays and exams. TAKE NOTES.  Writing information and ideas forces you to test your understanding; if you can't write it, you have a signal showing when and where to ask the teacher and/or classmates to clarify the material. Be honest in your effort to understand, then feel free to slow me down in complicated discussions where needed. Enter the room ready to absorb as much as possible. Note-taking is one important tool that helps you do this. Careful homework, obviously, helps, too.

2.  Improve the work.  Look over your mini essays and add detail to your responses; extract key quotes from the literature that might strengthen your essays.  Digging through the mini essay prompts, your responses, and the literature will improve your familiarity with the key concepts I'll be looking for in essays and exams.

3.   Make up the work.  Check the postings and turn in any outstanding work.  All assignments EXCEPT KBARs are eligible for half credit up to the final week of each semester.

*Please don't ask me for extra credit.  It is available throughout the year, but will not serve to bail you out.  Some assignments early in the first semester will be 100% "extra credit."  They will be announced as such.  If you are interested in extra credit, take advantage of these opportunities as they crop up.  They are not offered later.  Exceed my expectations on ANY assignment at ANY point in the year, and you will receive extra credit-- read the prompts  carefully and GO BIG! (But remember, quantity does not translate to quality; in fact, it often hurts).

Update 6/4--

Final Portfolio Reflection Questions


1.      From memory, list as many assignments in your portfolio as you can.  Check portfolio when done and complete the list (if necessary).

2.      Which is your favorite?  Why?

3.      Which was your least favorite?  Why?

4.       Which are you most proud of?  Why?

5.       Which was your favorite piece of literature this year?  Why?

6.       Who was your favorite character?  Why?

7.       Review all your work in your portfolio chronologically (earliest to latest).  List three interesting observations or changes in your writing.  Which are the most profound (obvious and important)?  Why?

8.       Look over your work and accompanying gradesheets.  List three writing skills you worked on this year.  Which is most valuable?  Most improved?

9.       List three essential skills for effective reading (think about all the steps you go through in understanding and making meaning from [interpreting] a piece of literature).  Which skill, or step, is most important?  Why?

Update 4/10--
8th graders have a persuasive speech to deliver next week; some will deliver on the 15th, the rest on Wednesday and Thursday.  Check out the Persuasive Speech Gradesheet.
7th graders are exploring Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles with me in class, and they should be working on their April literary analysis essay (second-to-last one!) due May 1st.

Update 3/13
7th grade assignment for Tom: Choose the most interesting/funny/poignant scene in the novel and illustrate it in a six to eight square "storyboard" (comic strip).  Explain the meaning/message of the scene (satirical?) with at least one well supported paragraph.  Make sure all work is shown on the front side of a single page.  Most of your points (out of 30 possible) will come from the explanation of meaning/message/theme.  Due Tuesday, 3/18.

Update 3/11--
8th graders:  Anne Frank letter assignment


Consider the history we studied involving Nazism, the holocaust, and Anne’s time in the secret annex.  What are the strongest feelings that come to you?  Write them down (prewriting).  I’m sure that if any of us were directly involved in the horrible mess of Nazi-occupied Europe, he or she would feel a strong urge to change the situation, to help, and if you were to attempt to right any of the wrongs related to this period in our history, language would likely be your best tool.  Use your imagination to brainstorm a list of individuals or organizations that might aid you in making a positive change in Anne’s world (more prewriting) if you were to write to them.   


Pretend you are living in Europe during Anne’s time in the annex (1942 – 1944).  You might know Anne, you might not.  You may be a young adult, or you may be older.  You may be an official of some sort, or you may be an average citizen.  Write a letter to the person or organization best able to help you effect positive change.


Pay attention to rhetoric: ethos, logos, and pathos (see class notes and/or research these terms again).  Remember that formatting is part of your rhetoric when presenting written work, so use proper business letter formatting.  Check this website for help:


I realize that this is not a conventional assignment; it's fairly open-ended.  You can approach it in several different ways, and I think that's good!  One of the main reasons we teach this piece of literature in 8th grade is to offer an opportunity for you to connect with a person your own age who is dealing with issues you deal with, like parental and friend relationships, and with more global issues as you learn about the world's problems.  If you like, you can draft the piece as a journal entry, but I'd like the writing to be in a letter format.  The diary entry idea is a good one, I think, because it should get you writing, remove pressure.  Once the writing is done, it shouldn't be difficult to address the piece to another person, even if it is a fictitious (made-up) one.

This assignment is worth 30 points and will be graded on depth of thought, appropriateness of tone and content (specifics related to the reading and documentaries we studied should be referenced), and formatting.  Due Fri. March 14th.

Update 2/20--
7th-- Print one of these Neoclassical thought vs. Romantic thought and dates (for use with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and bring it to class on Monday, 2/24.  Also, study for the Tom Sawyer vocabulary test Wednesday, 2/26.

Tom Sawyer vocab #1 
tom sawyer vocabulary
guile--deceitful cunning; duplicity
vanity--excessive pride in ones appearance or accomplishments
endowed--to provide with property, or income, or a source of income
sagacity--shrewdness and wisdom
unalloyed--not in mixture with other metals; pure--
adamantine--impervious to pleas or reason; unyielding; rock solid in belief or opinion
alacrity--cheerful willingness; eagerness
diluted--made thinner or weaker
splendor--great light or luster
evanescent--disappearing; temporary; fading
immunity--exemption from any duty, office, or tax; freedom form natural or usual liability
ecstasy--the state of being beside one’s self; excessive joy
audacious--bold; daring; spirited; insolent; impudent; characterized by shameless effrontery
sulk--to show sadness, lack of energy, enthusiasm, or motivation; mope
morose--sullen; austere; gloomy
pathos--deep feeling
desolate--having qualities of a wasteland; deprived of inhabitants
blight--a disease in plants, causes them to wither partly or wholly; a categorical dying-off
disconcerted--disturbed composure; frustrated; unnerved
effeminate--womanish or delicate
galled--offended; deeply annoyed
conspicuous--mentally or physical visible; obvious
marred--damaged or disfigured
august--grand; invested with grandeur and dignity
attest--to bear witness to
intrepid--bold; fearless
ostentatious--extravagantly showy
furtive-- stealthy; surreptitious; secret
disconcerted--disturbed composure; frustrated; unnerved
miscreant--an evil person; backstabber; someone lacking proper values/concern
facetious--humorous or jesting; putting on another “face” to prove a point

8th-- Keep up with the reading in A Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  Finish reading THROUGH page shown by date shown:
Feb. 17                     
19         pg 20
20          40
21           60
24           80
25            100
26     skip to pg 200   
27          220
28         240
March 3
4              260
5              done

Update 2/12--
Whew! Kids have done their jobs writing papers and presenting them (almost all); now it's on me to grade the papers and get students going on the next units, Anne Frank/Naziism/WWII for 8th graders, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for seventh.  More info on those to be posted as we move into them...  For now, we need to focus on making the most of this opportunity to reflect on performances at all of the stages in research project: address each of the Research Reflection prompts with at least one fully developed paragraph and submit the work on Tuesday, Feb. 18th for 60 points.  You should understand, given the large point value attached, that I consider this a very important assignment and I expect careful, honest, detailed work (quality, not quantity).  Most students in the past have put forth great effort on this assignment, revising drafts of responses and showing vivid examples, and they have been rewarded with 100% of the 60 points possible.  This is a great opprtunity to boost your grade. 
We are also resuming our regular asignments now that the research project is done, so the next KBAR log is due 2/28.
7th graders should lso be working the next lit. analysis project that is due 3/4.

Update 1/31--
Richard Lanham's "Paramedic Method" for revising prose-- USE IT!  Make every sentence of your paper concise and lively, VIGOROUS!

Update 1/24--
We are DEEP into the research project!  This week and next are critical to success-- crunch time!  Students should have a solid draft of the paper done today.  Revise it early next week; have a polished, convincing draft done by Thursday, January 30th.  This will allow time for practicing the delivery of the paper as a speech.  Don't forget that the visual aid should be integrated into that delivery; point to images and captions on the board that help to get your points across to us as you speak those sections of your paper.  Be creative!
Due dates:
Liliy S
Olivia R
Audra M
Jade H
Kara H
Will H
Hannah A
Anneke M
Leila S
Sofia W
Lyndon L
Dominic M
Greg O
Chase D
Logan A
Samantha C
Justin B
Nina F
Sebastian Q
Danielle P
Galen P
Carsan B
Brooke W
Jacob A
Josephine A
Lance S
Sabrina M
Anika M
Qili P
Alex R
Lucas S
Hannah M
Eddie M
William G
Prachi S
Lili TM
Ruysch E
Ashleigh C
Chloe W
Gabby W
Jamie G
Colin E
Matthew F
Rylie N
Evan D
Nate H
Mercedes S
Elizabeth T
Matthew H
Olivia D
Max C
Janea H
Sam S
Carson S
Taylor L
Amelia CC
Molly F
Hannah F
Zoey N
Chloe C
Skylar G
Caden B
Chase M
Eric N
James P
Ganden S
Sean O
Gabby B
Madi S
Eislee S
Landon B
Brittney V
Maija R
Isabel C
Matt E
Amberly C
Ben R
Maya N
Jena N
Abby H
Sammi G
Clare O
Nadia SB
Christine C
Jason W
Israel DT
Gaby R
Danielle H
John G
Roxy A
Alyssa S
Bridget D
Joe H
Atalie M
Noah G
Sam R
Dylan C
Taylor Y
Zach M
Casey L
Molly E
Kayley R
Amber N
Owen S
Lily A
Eric L
Cassidy C
Adrienne S
Martin K
Thomas P
Erik V
Jerry W
Tim H
Chris Q
Michelle M
Marisol S
Gloria F
Jacob R
Hannah R
Andrew G
Jack G
Macarthy M
Charlie S
Destinee W
Jorge V
Sevryn J
Adian A
Kiran H
Jack R
Aaron B
Tristyn M
Rakhi L
Samantha G
Kaylee B
Ariana K
Cobe V
Sean A
Miguel A
Kate L
Jamie F
Joel L
Zane L
Connor J
Jack M
Alex R
Paper is due the day you present.  An excused absence will not be penalized-- the presentation and paper will be due upon return, or a later date with special circumstances.
Print one of each of these if you haven't already:

Research Presentation Gradesheet

Research assignment sheet (with step-by-step-instructions)

MLA works cited help

Research paper checklist

Update 1/10--
 I'll check for ten pages of notes (or the equivalent-- note cards are okay), and THREE sources entered on a rough draft works cited page Monday. Make sure that each note includes a clear reference to the source of that note (the first word of the entry on the r. d. works cited and a page #, if there are page #s). 10 pts.

I'll collect a  thesis statement for the paper, the argument you'll develop ABOUT the life of your subject, Thursday, Jan. 16th.  Draft and revise this statement until the language is VERY CLEAR and the argument is worthy (is it statement that I will immediately accept as just plain true? Dig deeper! Show me a way to look at your subject that I might not have seen before, an important truth about him or her that I should know and tell others).  Turn it in to me on a fresh sheet of paper so I can write feedback below the statement. 10 pts.

Update 12/20--
Here we are at the winter break already!  All students should be shifting into research mode at this point, reading and soaking in all he or she can on the person chosen yesterday.  All other regular assignments (like KBAR) and spelling tests will be suspended until we wrap up research presentations the first week in February (you will get your personal due date for BOTH presentation and paper in late January by lottery in class).  Check out the links below to get ideas on expectations, but don't feel pressured by them at this point-- just read and take a few notes on important biographical and historical facts, WITH PAGE NUMBERS OF SOURCE FOR EACH NOTE (so that in-text documentation will be a snap when you draft the paper).  Wade in...  If you approach learning with an open mind for a  few weeks, your interest will guide you to the most important parts of the story when the generalities are old news.  Learning the basics should be fun and easy.  Enjoy this stage!

If you decide that your choice was not wise, and you'd like to switch subjects, do it sooner rather than later.  You should have a solid understanding of the person's life story (biography) when you return from break.  Consult the lists below so that you do not choose to switch to a person already assigned to a classmate (and TELL ME ASAP if you switch so someone else can have your previous choice):

Per one

Per two

Per three

Per four

Per five

Altom    T Geisel
Atwell    Steinbeck
Bloom    Houdini
Cassady  Da Vinci
Clark      Bradbury
Eppright  J Robinson
Hamachai  J Goodall
Heidler    Orville Wright
Hoover   L May Alcott
Howe    Jane Grey
Huber   Anne Frank
Jiminez  J Cash
Lopeman  A Earhart
Marks  S Jobs
Martin  Einstein
McNiff  R Parks
Meyer   M Yousafsai
Naficy  F Kahlo
Nitzel  Lady Diana
Nunes  Pele
Paape  Gandhi
Rankin  C McAuliffe
Robertson  M Curie
Rolph    Cleopatra
Rosenberg  Tolkien
Sawyer  R Dahl
Senecal  N Armstrong
Silacci  J Muir
Sturgeon  Twain
Svetich  Pat Summit

Beardsley,  D Kahanamoku
Carlson,    E Weisel
Chiang,   Da Vinci
Clark,   Cath. The Great
Corpuz Carr,   Earhart
Foster,   G Galilei
Fowler,   Shakespeare
Gibbs,   C Schultz
Godfrey,   MLK Jr
Guy,   Nobel
Hastings lll,   Wilma Rudolph
King,   E Fitzgerald
Lemieux,    Einstein
Lucchesi,   W Disney
Marchbanks,   Jane Austen
Meyer, E 
Meyer, T  R Reagan
Moersdorf,   L May Alcott
Nitzel,   H Keller
O Sullivan,  Sally Ride
Prater,   T Roosevelt
Schwartz Bolef,  Anna Pavlova
Shinglot,   M Theresa
Silver,  N Tesla
Smith,   J Lennon
Woods,   A Hepburn

Anderson,    M Freeman
Aviles,   M Monroe
Axberg,   Pele
Bertrando,   Gandhi
Cindrich,   J Robinson
Delacruz-Turner,  N Armstrong
Doyle,  JFK
Garris,   Malcolm X
Hurley,   P MacCartney
McKown,  Lincoln
Moore,   J Dean
Mulay,   M Von Richthofen
Norrbom, K Bryant
Overton,   Da Vinci
Quintanar,  Einstein
Rigor,   Disney
Turner McCurdy, K Cobain
Villa,  Nero
Viovode,  A Gr Bell
Wise,   G O’Keefe
Wood,   Earhart

Ajanel,   Obama
Baro, S Wonder
Berlin, MLK Jr
Castro,  S Jobs
Danninger,  Lady Diana
Erno, C Schultz
Fagundes,  Shaq
Fairchild,  Cleopatra
Flores,  Joan of Arc
Fritzley,  Disney
Galpert, Spartacus
Gater,  Tolkien
Headrick,  G Paulsen
LaFaille,   A Frank
Leslie,  St Wozniak
Lewis,  Marley
Manning,  B Hamilton
Norby,  N Mandela
ONeil,  T Roosevelt
Ponce,  J Lennon
Quintana,   JFK
Sandoval, Kath. Dunham
Schaffner,  Gates
Schlickeiser,  Q Victoria
Silva,  H Keller
Sohner,  M Monroe
Trujillo Ruiz,  J Robinson

Andreatta,  Da Vinci
Arthur,  Shakespeare
Burden,  E Presley
Caldwell, Pele
Carpenter,  Julia Childs
Doane, MLK Jr
Escalle,  J Robinson
Geise,  Gandhi
Hempenius,  R Parks
Higgins, Malcolm X
Jensen,  M Jordan
Leebrick,  T Roosevelt
McConnell,  Lincoln
Miklik, B Franklin
Penvenne,  JFK
Ririe,  Joseph Smith
Romero,  M Jackson
Sutton,  Bessie Coleman
Tran,  T Geisel
Vazquez,  Houdini
Vuong,  Ho Chi Minh
Wright B,  H Keller
Wright D, G Washington
Young, GW Bush


Research Presentation Gradesheet

Research assignment sheet (with step-by-step-instructions)

MLA works cited help

Research paper checklist

Update 11/6--
7th-- 7th graders are working on a Canterbury Tale-type Tale of their own that they will share aloud on a “pilgrimage” of our own.  Here’s the assignment:  Have fun writing a “Tale” from the perspective of a recognizable figure from our society—like Chaucer did from figures in his.  Story should take about four minutes to read aloud.  Make it a witty commentary on how our world works (or doesn’t work) today.  Mimicry of Chaucer’s witty style and creativity are encouraged for this one-to-three page story with a “moral” (moral with some satire involved?).  It should be a friendly and adventurous competition.  Winner (voted on by all, but chosen by me, the inn-keeper, ultimately) will get some sort of prize—a turkey leg?).  Due Tuesday, Nov. 12thth.  30 pts.  The next KBAR is due Monday the 18th (you can put it in the in-box Nov. 14th if you want).  Students should always be working on the next lit. analysis project (due Dec. 3rd)
Update 10/23--
8th grade mini essay prompts for today:

“Maybe there are some lies you should never admit to. I had told him we had to be truthful, and now I was sorry because I think I knew before the Pigman opened his mouth what he would have to tell us in return” (91).  Do you agree with Lorraine’s first statement? Is this true in all circumstances? In this particular case? Explain using short quotes to support your statement.


It’s clear at the end of chapter 13 that the party was a bad idea, a big mistake.  Why do John and Lorraine make it?  Is one more at fault than the other?  Is the decision-making consistent with what we have seen in their characters elsewhere in the story?  Support all answers with evidence and explanation (write full paragraphs!).

Update 10/17--
KBAR and spelling test #6 due tomorrow for all students.
7th- We enjoyed the first performance of our Beowulf Riff projects today-- good job synthesizing concepts involving the original story as an artifact of 9th century England and this performance portraying life in the U S, 2013.  Hannah F, Jason W, Thomas P, Trysten M, and Samantha G from 2nd period shared an especially thoughtful and clever story on stage.  Thank you! 
Keep lit analysis projects going-- remember that I expect an interesting, meaningful argument on the theme of the book you chose to analyze over the past month!  Essay should argue a point that requires support/development.  If your thesis is just plain true, it's not a good thesis-- wirk with the thought; what ABOUT the truth you see in the story?  Get into how and why.  You will benefit from a little bit of research-- what was the author's life like?  What have critics said about the book?  How might the time period/era of the story's setting inform your interpretation of the theme/message?  Research and steal ideas BUT ADMIT TO ALL THAT YOU STOLE THEM!  CITE SOURCES!  It's good scholarship!
8th- Mini essay today: Re-read the longer paragraph in the middle of  page 42. What does Lorraine mean when she says, “She just doesn’t look the way  she sounds, and I often wonder how she got this way.” What “way?” Speculate an answer of your own for Lorraine’s  nagging question.
Read THROUGH chapter 9 for Friday, 11 for Tuesday, 13 Weds, finish for Thurs. class.

Update 10/4--
7th-  We have read Robert Nye’s Beowulf: A New Telling, studied the context and significance of this original English text in the oral tradition, and I am emphasizing themes related to coherence of character, accepting the faults in one’s self and using acknowledged weaknesses to recognize and develop strengths, acting with grace to perform heroically.  The blend of Christian and pagan values and culture in this textual artifact of 9th or 10th century England is particularly interesting.  Beowulf’s power comes from his sensitive and forgiving nature, and from his faith, as much as it derives from his courage, from his loyalty to his mortal king, and from his physical strength.  The work’s value lies partly in what it shows us about any good piece of literature’s potential to serve as a window into the culture of the group that produced and consumed it, in this case a blended society of Viking overlords, Anglo Saxon commoners, and Christian converts/worshippers.  Because it is an artifact of our own Western civilization, and because I want kids to have fun exploring the parallels between the ancient culture of England and our modern culture, we are working toward an assignment that calls upon students to write a modern re-re-telling (yes, re- re-!):  

Riff on  Beowulf assignment

Robert Nye’s Beowulf: A New Telling shows an attempt to portray the “root meaning” of the original poem that is now 1000 to 1200 years old.  We see evidence of his concern with “root meaning” in his use of metaphors, symbols, and philosophical speeches.  Like all stories in the oral tradition, it shows listeners, or readers, the values of the culture that created it and consumes it.  Sadly, the USA does not have an epic poem that moves listeners to feel connected and educated in the culture.  So... your job is to write one!  Play with figurative style (symbols, metaphors, analogy, personification), and write a multiple-scene poem that tells a whole story.  Make the story reflect our culture and its values.  Have fun, but keep it school-appropriate!

Hints: Brainstorm possible modern-day characters/forces of our time that might represent the characters/forces of Nye’s version of Beowulf.  Who/what kind of character might you use for Beowulf?  For Unferth?  Queen Wealhtheow?  Hrothgar?  What evil force, monster, or person might represent Grendel?  2) Write scenes in which these characters/forces interact.  Show a conflict and a resolution.  If your poem is chosen by the group of six to 8 students to which you are assigned, you and your group members will adapt the scene to our little stage (in class) and you will perform a three to 10 minute skit.

Final draft of this assignment is due on Oct. 11th.  30 pts.  Extra credit may be awarded if script is accompanied by a storyboard.

Of course 7th graders should also make some progress each day on their lit. analysis project assigned last week and due Nov. 5th.  50 pts.

Update 10/3--
8th graders will need to know the correct order of events on the timeline, and they will need to know how to finish each statement below the timeline on the History of English study guide in order to do well on the history of English test set for Thursday, Oct. 10th.

Update 9/30--
7th graders will embark upon their first lit. analysis project in October.  Print the assignment sheet tonight and bring it to class with questions tomorrow.

Update 9/23--

Mr. Wittman
Per. 1
Short Story Connection Essay
Beyond Borders
Antonio’s age surprises me.  He’s about my size: five-seven, around one-sixty.  Antonio has grace given his proportions; he lifts a large House Special, loaded with pepperoni, from the back row of the top oven in a fluid motion.  His skinny brother, Pantaleon, swishes by with another order, slipping below the long-handled spatula as Antonio’s pirouette lands the steaming pie safely on the boxing counter.  Antonio beams a quick smile then shakes his head at the near miss.  His countenance suggests a boy of seventeen, but Antonio talks about his two little girls, his pretty wife, Esme, who I met last December at our boss’s Christmas party, and occasionally, very rarely, about his large family back in Mexico.  Antonio’s trials in immigration and the responsibilities he talks about with Esme, echoing some of the conversations of my parents, make it hard believe that he is only two years older than I am.
Antonio lives with, and accepts on a daily basis, the possibility of being plucked from the kitchen of Gina’s Pizza where we work, cuffed and corralled into a  white van marked United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, and deported across the barbed-wire border at Tia Juana.  Antonio’s experiences have shown him a harsh world that coddles some and punishes others with indifference.  My friend, Antonio, and Bridgie, of Paul Darcy Boles’ “The House Guest,” live in a world very different from my own.  Each of these characters has taught me that the world is more complex and unjust than I had thought it was, and they remind me to appreciate the truly important things in life.
I can relate to Mitch, the narrator of Boles’ story.  I drive a car of my own.  I have never been forced to skip a meal.  I do not know war.  Mitch has it good, and he doesn’t find much occasion for reflecting upon how good he has it-- until Bridgie comes for a six-week visit.  “At first it kept on being kind of eggshelly around her[,]” according to Mitch (79).  He wanted to make Bridgie feel welcome and comfortable, but knew he shouldn’t “ask her anything heavy about how things were in the place she’d come from…Belfast” (79).  Not knowing anything about Bridgie’s world makes it hard for Mitch to forge the friendship that he desires.  He offers to help Bridgie at every chance, but she’s independent.  “Nah…Don’t put yourself out for me, Mitch” (81).  Mitch is pleased when Bridgie finally does seek his help.
He cleans out the workshop for Bridgie, and she begins spending all her time there.  The workshop is out back, so Bridgie is isolated, exercising her independence.  She takes walks, explaining, “It’s fine walking where ya please.  Not havin’ to stay in the District…where you and your people stay inside of” (82).  This kind of limitation had never occurred to Mitch.  “I’d never even started to think about how it would be living inside a few blocks and not stepping over a line.  I did then” (82).  Bridgie’s matter-of-fact account of what life is often like for her opens Mitch’s eyes to another reality.  He learns to see things from Bridgie’s perspective, and this instills in him a deep sense of respect for her.  Bridgie helps Mitch gain a more complete understanding of the world around him; she shows him the importance of appreciating the good things he has—like his freedom.
Antonio’s happy-go-lucky personality is an inspiration.  Like Bridgie, he has led a restricted life.  In Mexico, Antonio was poor, and there was little in the way of job opportunities.  He came to the US, along with Pantaleon, hoping to fulfill a dream of prosperity.  I guess you could say he has prospered.  A typical day for Antonio, however, makes a typical day for me look like Club Med.  With two jobs, one with me at Gina’s and one at another restaurant, two infant daughters, and a young wife who doesn’t speak English, Antonio has little time for himself.  This is hard for me, the part-time employee full-time beach rat, to comprehend.  “What are you doing on your next day off?” I asked one summer night as we teamed up on the dishes, Antonio piling the steaming metal pots and trays onto the counter faster than I could dry them.
            “Day off?” he said, as though I were kidding.
            “Yeah, you know, when you’re not working.”
            “Always working, Weel,” he stated.
            I picked up another heavy, hot metal pot and wiped the white cloth over the edges as I turned it.  What must it be like to be seventeen without a day to yourself, to be always scrambling in one restaurant kitchen or another in order to feed, clothe, and house a family of four?  Seventeen!  As I daydreamed, staring blankly at the block wall above the sink and pondering the world through my friend’s eyes, a tiny, cold wad of pizza dough bounced off of my cheek.
            “Wake up lazy.  We don’ want to go home late tonight!”  Antonio had finished the dishes, leaving me with a mammoth stack on the counter to dry.  He stood smiling by the smooth metal table where we pound the balls of dough into round saucers, tossing them to impress the customers across the plexiglass sneezeguard.
~ ~ ~
            We were short one employee the following Saturday night.  During the week, there had been a raid by the INS at Antonio’s other restaurant and he had joined the rest of the kitchen staff for a one-way trip into Mexico.  “Don’t worry,” his brother, Panta, told me, rolling his eyes.  “He will be back tomorrow or the next day.”  I wasn’t sure what to say, or even if he was serious, so I said nothing.  “Three, four, maybe five days to get back to here,” Panta assured me. 
            “What will it cost him?” I asked.
            “One hundred, one-fifty,” he answered.  I dumped the tray of sliced mushrooms into another tray where we make the pizzas and returned to the walk-in refrigerator for more green peppers. 
            The walk-in is a good place to hide.  I like the cool and to munch on the cheese and salami sandwiches that Antonio had taught me to make—cheese in the center, salami for the bread.  How do Esme and Antonio’s daughters get along while he is fighting to return to this inhospitable second home?  I worry that he might not make it or that he might get into bigger trouble trying.  I picture him sprinting down the trails near the checkpoint in Oceanside, border patrol agents beaming their searchlights over the low chaparral.  What if he is ripped off by a heartless “coyote?”  What if he gives up and fails to return at all?  And if I’m having these terrible thoughts, if I’m this worried about my friend of six or seven months, how must Esme be feeling? 
            I visited Gina’s on Monday to pick up my paycheck and get a slice for lunch.  Sure enough, Antonio was there—all smiles, as usual.  “Antonio!  You’re back!”  My enthusiasm made several other customers turn to look at me.  I didn’t care.
            “Yes, Loco.  You think I not come back?” he asked.
            “No, I mean…yeah!  I mean, yeah, I knew you’d be back.”  He laughed, showing the gold in his teeth.  He rang up my slice and took my dollar-fifty.
            “Here you go, amigo.  Back to la playa, no?” he said, handing me the little white cardboard box.
            “You know it, amigo.  Las olas mas perfecto ahora!”  I shook his hand in the “bro” style, not forgetting to clash knuckles with him at the end.  “See you Wednesday, no?”
            “Si, si,” he replied with another smile.
            I sat in the back seat of my friend’s Suburu wagon on the way back to the beach, chowing down on my slice and checking the figures on my paycheck.  $162.63 for two weeks worth of part-time work—all right, I thought!  Over halfway to a new surfboard, or maybe I’d get some new rims for my mountain bike.  Then I pictured Antonio checking the figures of his check.  If I made $162.63, he must have cleared $700 easily.  But the bills he must have!  Can four people live on what Antonio makes?  What did Esme and her daughters do while he was scrambling north again?  How much did the trip cost him?  What will happen if he is caught again?
            I picture the bills, the cramped apartment they share with Pantaleon and his family, and I see Esme frowning.  But every time I picture Antonio’s face, his smile beams back at me.  “You think I not come back, Loco?” he chides in my memory. 
            No, Antonio.  I know you come back.
~ ~ ~
            I haven’t seen Antonio in many years, but like Mitch believes in Bridgie’s ability to overcome adversity, to maintain a positive perspective through unjust, traumatic, and chaotic times, I believe that he is doing okay.  Antonio and Bridgie are kindred spirits.  They serve as reminders of what life has to offer, of what offering something in return can do for the soul.  Quiet Bridgie, toiling to create her “door key” collars for stray dogs, devotes herself to others despite finding herself in a position that would have many characters feeling sorry for themselves (84).  Why should she be born into a poor Belfast family and Mitch live in relative luxury in the States?  Antonio smiles, working endless hours to support his family and befriending a naïve beach rat that, to him, must symbolize injustice in the same way.  Both characters struggle to make the most of circumstances imposed upon them by the geography of their birth.  They harbor contempt for the word “border,” but refuse to be broken by it.  Because they face their many challenges with optimism, because they do not waiver in their generosity despite having so little, and because their spirits know no bounds, their “District is the world,” and they inspire me to learn from those around me (84).

***Reflect on the essay now-- Where is the thesis statement?  Does the discussion/essay stay on-topic?  Does it answer the prompt (look at the assignment sheet again)?  Did the writer have a little fun along the way?  How?  Is that okay?***

Update 9/20/13--

Update 9/9/13--

READY?  SET?.....
2013/2014 school year is here!  Please review the course outline with your parent(s) and/or guardian.  Links to each grade level below.  Print one out and get it signed by parent or guardian for your first ten points in the course (easy money!).  Due Friday, Aug. 30th.


If link above does not work, find the text of the handout below:
 Back to School 2013—Here we go!


Welcome.  Thank you for trusting me to teach your kids.  Thank you for your help in teaching them.  Tonight, I’d like to highlight some details of ongoing programs that sometimes trip up the kids; I’d like to prep you on the research project that begins in December so that you can prep and support your student; and I’d like to cover miscellaneous items that apply to each of the two courses I teach.


KBAR—Reading log collected every two weeks.  10 pts each.  I expect students to read for at least 20 minutes each day/night; however, for KBAR, they should log FOUR reading sessions of at least 20 minutes on four different days per week.  The material can be almost anything, but there is a catch.  We want kids to want to read, and I’m interested in their choices, but the log must show a SIGNIFICANT quotation from each reading session on the reverse of the KBAR form.  This means that the reading material must contain significant material—Teen People, Cosmogirl, and the like are not safe choices!  Reading award-winning and/or widely celebrated authors can earn one to 2 points of extra credit.  If we are in the middle of reading a novel, assigned reading can be logged for regular credit.     Please support this program!  It is fairly tedious, I know, to log reading sessions, to log anything, really, but this program is pretty cool.  All Laguna students have been taking part in it for decades here, and the theories behind it are neat:

1. You, your student, and your student’s teacher celebrate student’s reading

2. It offers repeated opportunities to get involved in the student’s reading and generate meaningful discussion

3. It shows that we care about reading.

Please buy-in, and please help your student buy-in!  KBAR!  YAY!


Spelling tests—Most five-day school weeks, on Monday, I dictate a list of 20 words taken from a long list of “academic vocabulary” that several university professors compiled.  For years now, there has been a strong push to familiarize kids with these words before they leave high school.  The lists, and the accompanying vocabulary exercises, can be found linked to my website.  Encourage your student to look them over before each pretest—go for it!  Not cheating!  I dictate the post-test on Friday; the kids are responsible for having the vocab exercise done correctly on the pretest, and they need to spell the words they missed on Monday.  I staple the pretest (don’t lose it!) to the post-test as I collect the work.  If absent on a Monday, access the list and exercises on my website, study the whole list, complete the exercises, and take all 20 words on Friday.  If absent on a Friday, a responsible person in the house should dictate the words in a post-test scenario, sign the post-test, and send pre and post-test with student to school when he or she returns.  Student submits tests to the “in-box.”


Research Project—Students can begin reading and taking notes now on the life story of any positive, significant, RESEARCHABLE person.  You might help them choose a subject now.  Buy-in is crucial!  They will learn the life story, study issues of the time period, and eventually argue an interesting point about the person and his or her place in history.  Help them make the leap from “report” to argument.  I don’t want a report.  Let’s make them think little harder.



Course outline for English 7 Accel.     PARENTS: Please email me, send a short note with your student, or write a note in his or her planner indicating that you read the course outline and reviewed it with your student.  Your acknowledgment of the course outline info is worth ten points to your student-- due Friday, Aug. 30th.

Course outline for English 8     PARENTS: Please email me, send a short note with your student, or write a note in his or her planner indicating that you read the course outline and reviewed it with your student.  Your acknowledgment of the course outline info is worth ten points to your student-- due Friday, Aug. 30th.

The Short Story Connection Essay.  50 pts.

Spelling lists and vocabulary exercises

KBAR log

Essay Structure and Procedures handout-- the handout that will change your life!

Formatting Model

Plot Diagram Models

Short Story Connection Essay

Persuasive Speech Gradesheet

Research Presentation Gradesheet

Research assignment sheet (with step-by-step-instructions)

MLA works cited guidelines

Research paper checklist

Research Reflection prompts

Greek roots

History of English study guide

Neoclassical thought vs. Romantic thought and dates (for use with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)

Walk Two Moons essay exam prompts

Final portfolio reflection assignment

Lots of good help with writing here (note the paramedic method handouts)--
Go to "Academic Writing" > "Strong Thesis Statements"  for help with persuasive speech
Also helpful:  "Academic Writing" > "Essay Writing" > "Argumentative Essays"

The next KBAR log is due 9/7/12.  A new log will be due every two weeks after this date.  I do not accept late KBAR reading logs.  Extra logs are kept in the room by the door, but please be responsible for using the one I give on each due date (SAVE PAPER, TREES, TIME, ENERGY).  You may also print a log using the link KBAR log.

Your grade-- I use Powerschool now, so the Laguna site shows what's in the computer.  I update the computer "book" every two to three weeks.  Track your performance by considering your returned work-- how students did it for hundreds of years before web sites!  Check Powerschool every so often to see if your record of your performances matches mine.  Better yet, don't pay much attention to your grade; focus instead on the learning and go after the assignments with enthusiasm.  I guarantee your grade will be in the top ranks if you do.  Email me with specific questions or concerns.

What can you do to raise your grade?
1.  Keep up during class time; take advantage of every minute because ideas written about and discussed in class are the same ones I'm looking for in essays and exams. TAKE NOTES.  Writing information and ideas forces you to test your understanding; if you can't write it, you have a signal showing when and where to ask the teacher and/or classmates to clarify the material. Be honest in your effort to understand, then feel free to slow me down in complicated discussions where needed. Enter the room ready to absorb as much as possible. Note-taking is one important tool that helps you do this. Careful homework, obviously, helps, too.

2.  Improve the work.  Look over your mini essays and add detail to your responses; extract key quotes from the literature that might strengthen your essays.  Digging through the mini essay prompts, your responses, and the literature will improve your familiarity with the key concepts I'll be looking for in essays and exams.

3.   Make up the work.  Check the postings and turn in any outstanding work.  All assignments EXCEPT KBARs are eligible for half credit up to the final week of each semester.

*Please don't ask me for extra credit.  It is available throughout the year, but will not serve to bail you out.  Some assignments early in the first semester will be 100% "extra credit."  They will be announced as such.  If you are interested in extra credit, take advantage of these opportunities as they crop up.  They are not offered later.  Exceed my expectations on ANY assignment at ANY point in the year, and you will receive extra credit-- read the prompts carefully and GO BIG! (But remember, quantity does not translate to quality; in fact, it often hurts).


academic papers


Update May 8--

“How to…” Technical Document and Demonstration Gradesheet


___ / 5 materials listed; key terms defined (pictures needed?)

___ / 10 steps written in precise language (demonstrator can perform tasks without confusion or additional explanation; can achieve success following only the words on page)


___ / 5 cautionary notes are included in appropriate area(s) of document

___ / 10 professional, easy to follow format (picture of final product provided [if product is involved in your process] key elements of process are highlighted with appropriate font, margins, bullet points, borders, icons, illustrations, and or colors—use these well!  Don’t over do it; simple is the rule!)




___ / 10 all necessary materials are provided and incorporated into demo

___ / 10 demo takes between one and 4 minutes

___ / 10 demo is performed in an appropriate manner (Humor is allowed!  Just make sure it’s appropriate for a mature, educated audience—me!)

Update May 3--

The Outsiders  and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer dialogue assignment


Write a dialogue between one major character in S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and one major character in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Have them discuss the difficulties of navigating the world as a kid.  Include as much specific detail from the readings as you can.  Be clever :-). 


Illustrations that enhance and delight will earn you extra credit-- a storyboard, perhaps, or a painting, or collage…  Be clever :-).


50 points.  Due ­­­­­_May 10th____

Update April 24--

Update April 19--

Update April 11-- 7th grade storyboard: I PUSHED THE DUE DATE BACK TO TUESDAY, APRIL 16th

Update April 9--

Update April 4--


7th grade only: A number of emails are in my box about trouble with the literary analysis assignment sheet.  I can open it from my computer, and I can’t find a problem.  Sorry it is not working from your side.  Here is the content:


Monthly Literary Analysis Papers and Presentations

Authors construct stories using the same set of basic elements: setting, character, conflict, rise of action, climax, and resolution.  They also employ techniques or devices like pace; tone; description; point of view; dialogue; characterization and motivation; irony; figurative language; style; and format.  Different authors, and even the same author with different works, emphasize some of these elements and techniques over others to affect the reader, to deliver the theme of their individual works.


The assignment:

FIRST:  Read an approved book carefully enough to analyze its elements and techniques.

SECOND:  Write a complete essay structured according to the guidelines presented on the handout we use all year long, summarized here:


Title Reflects Your Subject And The Essay’s Thesis (don’t underline your title!)



Attention-getter (vivid description, a quote, staggering statistic)


Give title, author, BRIEF summary of plot including terminology (name key elements—not all)

transition to thesis statement

Thesis statement on theme goes here (make sure it’s a complete thought)




State point of paragraph (reason thesis is true)



Support with evidence (properly formatted quotations from the literature)

Explain connections to thesis





State point of paragraph



         Support with evidence

         Explain connections





State point of paragraph



         Support with evidence

         Explain connections





LINK to attention getter (remind reader of the essay’s beginning)



RESTATE thesis and possibly give another example, connect to your own experience?

TWIST—leave reader with an interesting/important/humorous thought relating to your subject—sometimes a quotation works well




Excellent papers and presentations will include discussions of the elements and techniques (see above) that contribute to the work’s effectiveness/development of theme.  I recommend that you provide these discussions in the body paragraphs, amidst your explanations for how specific evidence from the novel supports your thesis.  For example, does the passage you are using as evidence for theme also show the author’s skill and/or emphasis on characterization?  On description?  On figurative language?  On irony?  Does the format of the writing hint to the theme of the story?  Does the author’s choice of P.O.V. enhance the development of theme?  Analyses of the story’s elements can be offered briefly in the body paragraphs dealing mostly with theme, or an additional body paragraph or two analyzing the story’s elements may be added.  Just be sure not to stray from your discussion on theme too long; get back to your thesis after discussing elements.