It’s amazing how a 20-minute conversation can change the way you view yourself. Just like that, I became an activist teacher. 20 minutes! I have never thought of teaching as a political act prior to today, and I feel naive admitting this, because now it seems so obvious, but in the interest of transparency and honesty I’m sharing this with you, dear reader. I’ve always considered myself a little bit of a quiet system bucker, even in my earliest days of teaching, but the word “activist” wasn’t on my radar in relation to ME.
Today the class I am in went and visited another class that has been studying teacher activism. We rotated through two of three stations and in one of the sessions they asked us to think of a time when we opposed a policy, curricular choice, or something else in our school and what step we took to oppose it. It was very easy for me (and my colleagues) to come up with several examples. The older I get the more squeaky of a wheel I become. I cannot stand idly by and allow things that are not good for our students happen.
When I think about the educators I admire most, (from those I’ve studied –John Dewey, Paulo Friere, Ira Shor, bell hooks, Jean Piaget–to those I’ve grown to admire more recently–Rick Wormeli, Ken O’Connor, Sir Ken Robinson, Diane Ravitch, many of my Twitter friends–and those I know personally–you know who you are …) I have come to realize that one of the reasons I am drawn to them is because they stand up for what is right for students.
Every time I make a decision in the interest of my students, even if it goes against the status quo, I am an activist. Every time I post something on my blog that aims to change the way someone thinks, I am an activist. Each time I defend public education to the naysayers, I am an activist. Each time I stand up for my students, I am an activist. Acknowledging this makes me feel brave.
I might be taking small steps in the world of activism compared to other more public figures in education or even some of you that I know more personally, but as my confidence builds, so shall my activism, especially now that I know I am an activist.
If you say an act takes bravery it does not diminish other acts of bravery. It does not lessen the courage that another act takes. It doesn’t make anyone else less of a hero.
Who owns the word courage? No one. No one person owns any word or color or cause.
For some courage means fighting for other people’s freedom and comfort. For some, it is heroic just to get out of bed. For others, it is admitting publicly who you truly are.
You might not recognize someone’s act as being brave, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not.
Know that one type of bravery does not weaken the others.
My bravery is not better than your bravery; it is just different. It’s still bravery!
Usually once you understand something, it becomes less of a threat. Sometimes it’s a small tweak in perspective that can change the way you see the whole world. Often, once you understand people who are different than you, you can love them. On occasion, it’s seeking understanding that takes bravery.
It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.
This post is cross-posted on the slowchated blog. This week’s #slowchated will focus on JOY in education. To participate in this week-long one-question-per-day chat, you can jump in here –> #slowchated
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
~ Albert Einstein
Oh, Albert. Such a smart cookie you were. I would take Albert’s statement just a bit further in adding that the act of awakening joy in others brings joy to the awakener as well. It is utterly and beautifully cyclical. How lucky are we educators to have this honor? Helping a student find joy in learning, is one of the best feelings I know.
One thing that I know I forget far to often (my husband and children can vouch for this) is that it’s important to experience joy away from one’s job. For every ounce of joy I experience in the classroom comes an ounce (or more) of frustration (usually due to some layer of bureaucracy). Doing the things you love and spending time with people who bring you joy outside of your school provides a balance that is vital for preserving one’s career … and sanity. So …
… Q1: What brings you joy outside your classroom/school?
How often do we make a conscious effort to focus on the joy of teaching and learning? How often do we remind ourselves that learning should bring the learner joy? How often do we design learning with joy in mind? It’s hard because of the demands of people and entities outside the classroom constantly clamoring for our attention. Despite those demands, the classroom should be a place of learning and joy. I would even go so far as to argue that in order for learning to take place, there must be some element of joy involved–or maybe more accurately, learning will be more likely to occur of there is joy in the process. This is not a scientific fact; it is merely based on 15 years of working in the trenches of public education. This brings us to …
… Q2: What brings you joy in the classroom or school where you work?
[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.
~ Jim Henson
What do you share with your students? Are you a real person to them, or are you the person who they believe keeps a cot in the closet and lives at school? We need to humanize ourselves to our students. It’s part of the give-and-take of relationship-building. If you want to understand your students, you need to know them, and in order for them to trust you, you need to reveal who you are to them.
I’m not suggesting you need to share every detail of your life, but how about sharing that you raise chickens? or paint watercolor portraits of your friends’ pets? or that you climbed a mountain last summer? or that you cross stitch pop culture icons in your spare time? or that you collect dolphin figurines? or that you love to sit in a hammock and read book after book all summer long? or that your great-grandpa was an Arabian prince? or that your dog died and that it makes you sad? or that when you see a snake or a turtle in the middle of the rode that you stop and move it to the ditch so it doesn’t get run over? or that you are an alien from outer space just trying to fit in? (There was a teacher at my elementary school who told her kids this. She never ever denied it. In fact, part of me still wonders …)
Why not share those things with your students? Every teacher will have a different comfort level regarding what s/he does and does not share, but share something. When you share, your students will usually share in return or be one step closer to sharing. Dr. Gary Stager says that being an interesting adult is one of the best things we can do for our students. I agree with him and I strive to be a weirdo for my students every day!
This is the perfect intro to Q3: What are some ways we can share our personal joys (and passions) with our students?
What teachers do in the classroom can affect a child for life. That’s one of the reasons why our profession is so totally rad, but also so totally scary. When a student walks into my classroom, I set the tone in my instruction, in my reactions, and in my expression of learning. It’s not always easy! It’s easy for students (who often seem surprised to see us at the mall or in a grocery story) to forget that we are human too and humans have off or bad days, so I need to ask …
Q4: When you are having a bad day, what can/do you do to set a positive tone in the classroom?
HOMEWORK: Think of some images that represent joy to you & have them at the ready for tomorrow
We are a visually driven culture, so let’s talk about Q5 (which is not really a question): Share some images of what joy looks like to you (inside or outside the classroom/school).
My wish for all educators who read this is that you always remember how much fun and joyful learning can be and that you do what you can, when you can to ensure that your students have a joyful experience in a place that can set the tone for an entire year of their life and potentially for their whole entire lives!
You can view the entire discussion here:
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The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.
~ Kakuzo Okakaura
There are all sorts of posts on social media and comments being made about how “kids these days” are becoming less social and less able to interact socially/intelligently because of smartphones and tablets and computers and drones and wifi and cyborgs … (WATCH THIS–> We are ALL cyborgs now. ~ Amber Case) but I can tell you that this weekend I took a road trip with three 12/13-year-old girls who spent the entire weekend reading, writing, researching, AND speaking with one another both through traditional language (speaking), through writing (texting, messaging) and through visuals (Instagramming, SnapChatting). They type; they talk; they make videos; they share images; they giggle; they consume viral content; they CREATE content; they experiment; and they are just like I was when I was 12, except that they have modern technology–(just like I had modern technology when I was 12. It just happens to be 26-year-old technology at this point in history).
Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.
I understand why people see it this way. There are people (kids and adults) who over-use the technology that is so readily available to us. There are people who rarely see sunshine, or have hunched backs from constantly huddling over screens. There are people who have taken waaaay too many pictures of themselves (myself included). But, I do not believe for a second that modern technology hinders communication. Social media is a form of literacy. If you don’t learn it, you will become, in a way, illiterate. Refusal to learn is refusal to live life to its full potential.
The girls spent a lot of time using their screened devices. I am the mean mother who still hasn’t purchased a smartphone (nor a stupid phone) for my daughter, but she has an iPad from school and her friend has two smartphones, so she let my daughter borrow the smartphone she no longer uses, as a wifi-ready device for the weekend. There were several remarkable things I’d like to note about what happened our trip.
On the way to South Dakota, the girls decided that they wondered what it would be like to time-lapse themselves for the entire way there. One of the girls time-lapsed herself sleeping the other night and that idea spurred this idea. They set up one of the iPads and began time-lapsing the trip. Then they decided it would be pretty awesome to not only have a time-lapse of themselves, but also of the road, so they set up a second iPad. We had simultaneous time-lapsing going on. It was a rather nifty experiment.
This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.
The next thing that happened was they did a lot of sharing through digital communication. They also talked … a lot. They would be talking while they were sending each other digital content. Color-me-impressed with how much talking occurred this weekend. (It was nearly non-stop.)
These girls are documentarians. If you wanted to create a timeline of our weekend, you could. You might be overwhelmed by the massive body of work, but you could definitely chart our activities through the girls’ pictures and posts. At the end of the trip, my daughter’s two friends told their moms to follow me on Instagram so that they could see what their weekend was like. As a mom, I would really like to be able to see that. If my child is away from me, I would find it a blessing to know what she did while she was away. (Now that my oldest daughter is away at college, this is especially true!)
Anytime the girls were unsure of something, they researched it online. The answers are there. We were able to talk about website credibility through this. We were also able to practice concert etiquette–one of the important components being–>put your phones away during the concert! When the girls started to interact in catty ways with girls who weren’t physically there, we had the opportunity to talk about how staying out of “the drama” of being a girl is really better than engaging in it. If someone baits you online, it’s best to not take the bait! We had some excellent conversations. If someone says “like for a #TBH DM” don’t hit LIKE. Don’t do it! I learned some things this weekend, but I think they did too.
We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.
At one point during the trip, there was a “fight,” as often happens when you get three girls together for any extended period of time. After said fight and after a little parental intervention (AKA group therapy sesh), I witnessed the three girls work out a problem they were having through Snapchat. One of them sent an (intentionally) unattractive photo of herself to the other with the message, “Why can’t we be fweinds?” right before the concert started, and then they were all holding in laughs and giving each other knowing looks that conveyed “WE ARE FRIENDS” or “fwiends” if you will. Up until that point, I thought Snapchat was a good-for-nothing app that served only as a way to send inappropriate images to one another under the guise of “safe anonymity”. It still CAN be that–no doubt about it–but if we educate our children how to use such apps responsibly, then amazingly enough, even Snapchat can be useful.
In addition to all the things I mentioned above, we also saw three collegiate orchestral, concert and symphonic band concerts, went thrift store shopping, took a self-guided tour of the statues of the USD campus, went swimming, sang songs, visited the National Music Museum where we were all able to take a crack at playing the gamelan and my youngest daughter got to spend (face-to-face) time with her big sis.
We took three “groupies” as the girls called them or “us-ies” as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of “groupies” in my generational vernacular). We took one at every concert.
So, do these devices make us less social? NO. We may socialize in different ways, but we are not less social. Are kids super-self-centered in that they take a thousand selfies per minute? YES. Have you ever heard of a generation of adolescents who have not been self-absorbed though? They may have shown their self-absorption in other ways, but kids have always been on some level (varying by individual, of course) of the belief that they are the sun and the rest of the people in their lives are the world–revolving around them. Being self-absorbed at that age is NORMAL. My friends and I used to stare at ourselves FOR HOURS … (no hyperbole here … ) in the mirror making weird faces and bursting into laughter. HOURS. Now, they just do it into a screen and possibly make a montage of the most awkward photos or a mashup or a meme. If my friends and I could’ve done the same, we would’ve.
YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven’t stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in ways currently unimagined 20 years from now.
Balance. Of course, we need balance in everything we do–not just in digital VS. face-to-face interactions, and technology vs. nature–but in work vs. play, health vs. indulgence, physical vs. mental activity, fun vs. serious, and so on. Technology changes communication, but in my opinion, communication is easier today than it has ever been. Communication is more creative today than it ever has been. And kids are the same as they ever were; they just have new ways of expressing themselves.
In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
Nebraska’s premier educational technology conference, #NETA15 starts NEXT THURSDAY!
Can I get a w00t (with zeroes, not o’s)?!
The witty, and wonderful Cynthia Stogdill (@CynthiaStogdill) and I have teamed up to present the second annual NETA InstaWalk. We wanted to tie in to the overall #NETA15 theme of “On the Move,” but we wanted to get a little bit funky with it, so our theme is “Movin’ and Groovin'” because we want you to get down with yo’ bad selves.
Some of you might be thinking, “HUZZAHHHHHH! I can’t wait to get funky!” and others might be thinking, “HUH?”
For those of you huzahhhing, I salute you. For those of you scratching your heads, I invite you to listen up: The InstaWalk is the more casual part of the conference. It’s the lair of levity. The fountain of friendship. The axis of ahas! …
To be more specific, it’s a photo challenge of sorts, in which we … Cynthia and I … challenge YOU … all attendees of the #NETA15 conference … to have a little fun with your camera whilst learning and networking and growing as a professional.
There are FIVE separate challenges, and I reveal them to you below, along with the attractive digital badges you can earn by completing the challenges. We also have a SIXTH badge that you can earn, if you complete all FIVE challenges. You will have the rights to proudly display your badges on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or your own personal blog. That’s how prestigious these badges are. (Most importantly, it is fun to earn them. Yeeehaw!)
1. Download the Instagram app onto your smartphone or tablet.
2. Give Instagram permission to use your photos.
3. Capture a photo you want to share.
4. Upload it to Instagram.
5. Caption it with any info you want to share + #NetaInstaWalk15 + the hashtags that correspond with the badge you are attempting to earn.
While going about your conferencing business, be on the lookout for things that might fall into the following five categories: 1. things that enlightened you 2. old friends and new friends (and by “old” we are in no way implying anything about you or your friends’ ages, we are only referencing longevity of friendship) 3. your fashion and other people’s fashion. #edufashion, if you will 4. food! glorius! food! food you ate and food you saw and wish you could eat and 5. magic moments. (We’ll let you decide what that means.)
Since Cynthia and I were feeling so groovy when we were dreaming up ideas, we chose some hits from the 60’s and 70’s that made us feel like dancing … So move with us … groove with us …
If you do that, you will win this beaut:
For your cultural edification, here is the song that we are referencing:
To earn the #WithALittleHelpFromMyFriends award, post a picture of your and your friends. This is selfie time USA. Don’t hold back. If you have a selfie stick, I hope you brought it. Be sure to include the following hashtags to get full credit for this challenge:
To earn the #Beautiful award, post a picture of your favorite #NETA15 fashion. It might be YOUR own fashion. It might be the fashion of one of your friends. It might be the fashion of a complete stranger who will become your friend after you tell her/him how much you love her/his fashion. Be sure to include the following hashtags to get full credit for this challenge:
To earn the #AmericanPie award, post some pics of your breakfast, coffee break, or your lunch. You know teachers love to eat, especially when they have more than 20 minutes to do so! Relish in it, but don’t forget to take a pic. (This is Instagram we’re talking about after all.)
To earn the #ThisMagicMoment award do your best to capture what you consider to be a magical #NETA15 moment (or something that represents it since you can’t really predict when magic moments might occur).
#NetaInstaWalk15 #ThisMagicMoment #TheDrifters OR #JayAndTheAmericans
If you do that, you will win this badge:
And here’s the song:
If you just so happen to be one of those camera-happy, instagrammy, or super-competitive types and you earn ALL FIVE of the aforementioned badges, then you will earn the most valuable badge of all badges:
THE KODACHROME BADGE
If you think you have earned all five badges, be sure to post a picture of ANYONE or ANYTHING from the conference and in the caption, please use the following hashtags:
Here is the Mother of All #NetaInstaWalk15 badges:
A couple of things to keep in mind:
If you have a PRIVATE Instagram account, we won’t be able to see your pics, even if you hashtag them. I’m not pressuring you to lift your privacy settings. I just want to make sure you know that it will be difficult to participate, unless you friend either Cynthia or me, which is an option that will allow you to keep your settings high(er) but still get credit.
If you do not have a private Instagram account and you use these hashtags, there is a chance we will re-gram you on #NETA’s Instgram account or on one of our accounts.
There is also a chance that your photo may end up in the slide show at the end of Day 1 or during Day 2 at some point.
We are totes excited to move and groove with you. The main thing is: HAVE FUN with this. The NETA conference is already fun (unless you hate learning) but this will be the icing on the cake. If you have questions, feel free to email Jodie at email@example.com or tweet me @morgetron.
Here are some #nebedchat/#nebedu peops you may consider following. (If I have left you off, it was either accidentally, OR we don’t follow each other and so I don’t know about you YET!) If you’d like to be added to this roster, please let me know.
Now that you’ve made (at least) one pass through Stitches, A Memoir, by David Small, your final assignment is to respond to the following questions in the form of an essay or a blog post. There are no length requirements, but your responses should fully explore the questions posed. Go beyond a surface-level response. Keep in mind that this your final for this unit, so you should handle it in a way that reflects your careful consideration.
Mama had her little cough … <KNH!> once or twice, some quiet sobbing, out of sight … or the slamming of kitchen cupboard doors. <WHAP!> <WHAP!> <WHAP!> That was her language.
For example–if you are working on responding to question 1, if you just tell me that you thought reading the book was “fine”, that it’s similar to reading a traditional memoir because “it tells a story”, and that it is different from reading a traditional books because “there are pictures”–that’s not a well-developed response. If you give me specific examples from Stitches to illustrate why you did or didn’t like it; you describe strategies and/or methods that work for reading both types of books; and you give specific examples of how the process of reading a graphic novel and a traditional book are different, you’ll be golden. The more specific you get, the better.
David: I … she … she’s … craze- y!
Mama: Listen to me: I don’t ever want to hear you use that word again! Do you hear me? NEVER!
Before beginning your responses, you should consider engaging in a second read-through to “catch” things you missed on your first read. As I have mentioned before, I have read this book in the neighborhood of 10-15 times and I catch something new every time!
1. What did you think about reading a graphic memoir? How is it similar to reading a traditional memoir? How is it different?
2. How did the elements of the graphic novel contribute to your understanding of the story? For example, think of the graphic weight of the lines, and the frames; the surreal vs. real (How can you tell the difference?); changes in drawing styles; foreground, midground, and background; speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and special effects lettering; the facial expression and body language of the characters. Get specific. Give me specific examples from the book. Use page numbers and descriptions to explain your response.
And that is not all! What about the literature he’s been reading? Talk about that. All those books in his room. All that SMUT!
Before you answer the next questions, do the following:
3. How does reading this article and watching the video contribute to your understanding of Stitches, A Memoir? Was there anything that surprised you about either of them? (Be sure to explain why.)
4. Do you believe that graphic novels/memoirs should be included in an academic setting, like this Contemporary Literature and Writing class, or other classes? Why or why not?
You’ve been living in a world full of nonsense, David. No one had been telling you the truth about anything. But I’m going to tell you the truth. Are you ready?
Respond to the above four questions in a typed, 12-point, double-spaced essay OR post it as a blog entry. Your choice. Email me no matter what–either to send me your essays as a PDF or send me an email stating something to the effect of “I posted my essay as a blog post,” no later than Tuesday, April 21, 2015, by 11:59 PM.
I’ll be assessing your writing on…
CONTENT (65%): Are your responses fully developed, thoughtful response? Do you go beyond the surface of what the question is asking? Did you use specific examples? Were your responses accurate?
DICTION (10%): Do the word choices you made convey the ideas you are trying to express? Is there a way to say what you want to say more clearly?
CONVENTIONS (25%): Did you edit? Did you follow the rules of Standard English? Did you use paragraphs? Did you use 12-pt font? Did you double-space?
(All quotes in bold above are take from Stitches, a Memoir, by David Small.)
My (admittedly vague) instructions to you were to read the poem and then “read up” on the poem (by following the links provided or to search online) and find some “fun facts” about the poem. In class today, you will give us some of those fun facts and do an oral interpretation of the poem you selected.
First, I will present some fun facts about T. S. Eliot and his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Then I will do a dramatic reading of said poem. Then it will be your turn.
But wait! There’s more! Your assignment after this is to TEACH your poem to a freshman. You will create an informative video about your selected poet and poem as well as an (hopefully a dramatic, engaging, oral interpretation of the poem).
Your video should include the following things …
… a brief bio of your poet.
… any significant historical, cultural, or personal events that inspired the poem.
… any other interesting things you can find out about the poet or the poem.
… your oral interpretation of the poem.
Think of how you would like to be taught a poem. Make it interesting for your freshman. We will share some of the videos here in this post.
In light of an upcoming standardized test that you may or may not be taking … or tests that you’ve already taken … are standardized tests helpful or harmful? useful or worthless? Explain your stance. (Keep in mind that standardized tests include the ACT, SAT, MAP, State Tests, AP exam and others not listed.)
Read at respond to the following article. (If you need a paper copy, I have one.)
The title of this blog post is a bit alarmist, especially since I was specifically speaking from an academic standpoint. Some teachers fear that students who have been assigned to read books that have been made into movies will not read and will just watch the movies instead, presumably working under the assumption that the movie is exactly the same as the book. Alarmist indeed, especially since I don’t think there is any danger in this situation, even academically speaking.
If your student hasn’t read the book, you will know. After all, you can’t flim-flam a flim-flammer … eh? I mean we were high-schoolers once. We went to college! We know all about tomfoolery, malarkey, funny business, and shenanigans. (I would’ve used another better-known saying at the beginning of this paragraph, but I like to keep this blog family-friendly … ish.) If your student hasn’t read the book, but watched the movie (or for that matter listened attentively during lectures or class discussions), s/he might be able to answer very basic content questions, but it will be nearly impossible for him/her to analyze or evaluate without being vague. This is when you can pull out your questions that pertain to the movie but not the book or vice versa … and BAM! you know you have a flim-flammer on your hands. Proceed according to your classroom policies regarding students who don’t do their work (which hopefully includes trying to get to the bottom of WHY the student is avoiding the work). Will there be the rare exception of the student who is so skilled in the art of bull-skooting that s/he will be able to dazzle her/his way through an assessment over a book s/he has not legitimately read? YES, but you don’t have supernatural powers, so there is nothing you can do about it, so let it go. As long as the student isn’t doing something to hurt her/his classmates, school property or you … for good gravy’s sake, let it go.
CONFESSION: I used to be one of those teachers who lived in fear of students poppycocking their way through a literary unit armed with only their cinematic knowledge of a piece of literature. What if they don’t read? What if they lie to me? What if they trick meeeee? What will my colleagues think of me? What will my principal think of me? Why am I so worried about me? Me? Me? Meeee? Why am I worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and might not ever happen? Why don’t I trust kids? Why am I such a control freak? The older I get, the more I realize that, except for what I do and feel, I cannot control much else, which allows me to live in fear no more. A conversation I overheard during a lit circle discussion a day or so ago helped to solidify this and I will tell you about it, but first, a digression:
In my Contemporary Literature class, one of my goals (which is-dare I admit this publicly?–NOT ATTACHED to a state standard—GASPPPPpppp!) is to take each of my students’ stance on reading and move it closer to LOVE.
Allow me to expound visually …
Where do you fall on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum? I’m just west of considering reading as marriage material.
In other words, no matter where the a student is on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum, I want that student to be closer to LOVE when s/he walks out of my class at the end of the semester. Most kids walk into my class with a basic MERPitude toward reading. They don’t outright hate it, but it’s not something they crave. Some kids walk in somewhere between MERP and HATE. Even fewer walk in somewhere between MERP and LOVE. It is a rarity that a student is already in LOVE with reading when they walk in, but it does happen. In fact, every so often I have a student take Contemporary Literature because s/he wants to, even though s/he is already enrolled in another English class and doesn’t need the extra credit to graduate. When that happens it is a true compliment to English Language Arts–probably one of the highest.
In Contemporary Literature, (which originally was created for students who did not plan to attend a four-year college, but now has been overflowing with students of every post-high school intention imaginable … !!!) I use the following things to help move student closer to LOVE:
A. high-interest books: I do not pay attention to reading level or text-complexity. I look for well-written, interesting, books with relatable characters and topics that affect modern students. I don’t give a flying fig if it appears on some elite College Board or ACT list. I don’t care if scholars think it’s trashy, or simple, or cheesy. If it hooks a reluctant reader’s interest, I’ll take it.
B. self and group regulated activities: –like literary circles, for example. Activities like lit circles gives the students choice and independence–something that EVERYONE needs to thrive, whether they are 2 or 100. These are also elements that are too often left out of the classroom, sadly.
C. alternative texts: We dive into graphic novels, science fiction, articles from the web, podcasts, and movies. YES: Movies ARE a -visual- text.
And now back to my original topic … Sometimes books inspire students to watch movies. On the other hand, sometimes movies are the gateway drug to books. Yes indeedy: Movies can lead students to books! Sometimes a kid likes a movie so much that s/he decides to read the book. And, sometimes a kid is assigned a book that has been made into a movie, and even though the movie isn’t exactly like the book, it still helps the kid understand the book–either before the student reads or retroactively. Those are positive things!
Personally, I prefer to read a book THEN watch a movie. However, other people have different preferences. Just because that’s the way I like to do it DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE HAS TO LIKE IT THAT WAY. (That’s hard for some teachers to grasp, I’ve noticed.) For me, once I’ve seen a movie, it’s hard for me to NOT picture the actor who played each character as I read, and I don’t like that, but not everyone has those issues. They are either able to block the actors’ images from their minds or they enjoy having a visual upon which to rest the mind’s eye.
If you choose a book to teach (or allow students to choose a book to read) that has been made into a movie, will you have a percentage of kids who will watch the movie in lieu of reading? ALWAYS. Just like you will always have a percentage of kids who “replace” reading with Wikipedia or Sparknotes or LitCharts or the next newfandangled thang that comes along under the guise of helping people understand literature but which actually serves as a means for kids (and adults) to cheat on content-level tests (and book club meetings). (In fairness to the aforementioned entities, I will say that when used with integrity, they do serve as a resource for helping people understand literature–at a surface level.) That being said, if a kid is able to pass an assessment without reading the book, are you asking the right questions? (That is for another blog post, methinks.)
Now back to that conversation I mentioned earlier in the post. During lit circles the other day, I overheard students discussion the book, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, which is not only a popular book, but also a popular movie. The group members had all seen the movie. They were comparing the book to the movie and making note of all of the differences. They were also evaluating the movie based on the book–what they liked about the book and what they thought the movie did better. They were also qualifying WHY they felt that way. This was a grown-up conversation, and they were doing this without my guidance and without micro-management of any sort. The lit circle provides a flexible structure for the students. They build outward from that structure. It is always an honor to lead a class in discussion, but it is an even more rewarding to listen to young people do it on their own. And guess what? They held each other accountable for reading. Based on my experience, students are more motivated to be prepared when they know their peers will be upset with them than they are when they just know that the teacher might be upset. And it is one thing to attempt to bamboozle a teacher. It is another thing to attempt to hornswoggle a group of your peers. They will call you out–publicly. And they will determine whether or not you read or just watched the movie and said you read. They will ask the trick questions outright!
The movie version of The Fault in Our Stars served as another point of dialogue for the students. It did not detract from the conversation. It did not demotivate them. They still read the book. They held one another responsible. They got into higher levels of thinking (analysis, evaluation) BECAUSE they watched the movie AND read the book.
Outside of lit circles, there will be kids whose interest is sparked enough by a movie that they will read the books that inspired the movies … and they might even like reading those books … maybe even a little bit more than they enjoyed their last reading experiences. As a result, they move a little closer to LOVE!
That is a good thing. That is what teaching is all about.
I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and OF COURSE I love love love the bojangles out of relevance, which typically leads to engagement) but truth be told, the word rigor just makes me think of stiff corpses …
<tenting hands à la cartoon villain> … You’re thinking about them now … aren’t you? …
Unfortunately (for me and anyone like me), any time you get a bunch of dorks together to talk about curriculum the dead body word comes up, every stinkin’ time. It’s been in use for a good long while now too, so I think it’s outlived the buzzword phase. We’re probably stuck with it. However, after typing rigor into thesaurus. com, I’ve curated a brief collection of of alternatives for the aforementioned word that I would very much like to avoid, if possible, when discussing anything but the state of a cadaver from this point forward:
AUSTERITY –> After all, standards should be of a stern and unwavering nature, no? (Curriculum should not be austere; standards should be.)
FIRMNESS or RIGIDITY –> Standards should be unmoving, stationary targets. (Again: The curriculum should be fluid, adaptable, and ever-evolving to best meet and exceed standards, but the standards themselves should usually stay put–until we discover a problem. Then they should be altered immediately.)
PRECISION –> Of course standards should be clearly defined and exact–so should curriculum.
ASPERITY –> This one means harshness or sharpness, which is way worse than THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED’s definition, but as a word, it is much more auditorily pleasing.
TRADITIONALISM or CONVENTIONALISM –> These are, after all, qualities that curriculum and standards sometimes take on if rigor’s intended meaning is misconstrued. Maybe, if we called it one or all of these things, it could serve as a warning to people when they started getting away from academically or intellectually challenging (the definition I use for rigor) curricula to stale, inflexible, stoutly traditional or boringly conventional curricula. (There’s nothing wrong with some traditional or conventional methods, so please don’t slay me with your words, dearest readers who favor traditional or conventional methods in education. I just firmly believe that educators need to stay fresh and open to the idea that there is always a possibility of something better out there as we continually learn more about learning.) In other words, when we are dealing with a rigorous curriculum–cool. When we are dealing with a stale, unwaveringly, boring, traditional-for-the-sake-of-tradition curriculum we can say … Whoa, slow down there, doggy. We’re getting into the realm of inflexible traditionalist conventionalism and we’re going to need to shorten your leash a little.
OBDURACY –> This means unmoving, stubborn, unyielding … When you get down to it, standards should be these things, but the people who write them shouldn’t be. WE, the keepers of the curricula, have to be flexible enough to see when something that was “set in stone” needs to be sandblasted.
PUNCTILIOUSNESS –> This is my favorite. It is more in line with what I think of when I think of what curriculum and standards should be, but is also just a cool words that does not conjure up any morbid thoughts for me. It feels pleasant on the tongue and sounds lovely in the air. Punctiliousness is an attentiveness to detail. Isn’t that agreeable? Maybe even … charming? Okay … that’s probably taking it too far, but it’s a heckuva lot better than corpses … frozen, immalleable, ossified corpses. (Shut up! I’m closing out of the thesaurus.com tab right now …)
None of the words on the above list mean fun things–not that education ALWAYS has to be a circus of entertainment. (Though wouldn’t it be cool if we actually included a standard for fun? Then again, any attempt to standardize fun would probably make it less fun … so, never mind.) Education should be fun when it CAN be, but it can’t always be. Curriculum should be suitably challenging, even difficult at times (not that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive). And again, I think that rigor (gag!) as it is usually intended in curricular discussions IS a good thing. I just wish we could agree on a more palatable* way to say it.
*I thought up the word palatable without the assistance of thesaurus.com.