Drama Games For Every Classroom*

*This post was inspired by this week’s #slowchated.

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Why school? Because: Relationships. Relationships are why education is.

It is for the above-stated reason that I spend so much time at the beginning of a semester (even for year-long classes at the beginning of second semester) front-loading rapport-building activities. As far as I’m concerned, content and skill development can wait because without a student-teacher rapport, learning will suffer. I have a friend who lives by the mantra: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you invest this time connecting to students, you don’t even have to think about classroom management later on. When you earn your students’ respect, you set the stage for smooth production.

In my current position, I teach English and drama. Some of the same games we use to build performance skills in drama class are also brilliant community-enhancers and can be used in any classroom for such a purpose.

Why do drama games work for building classroom community? They’re fun. They’re a little silly. They give license for people of all ages to play together in a low-risk situation that has no other goal than to strengthen the relationships in the room. (SRSLY, doods. Everyone wins. Every. Single. Time.)

In this post, I’ll discuss drama games that have worked well in non-drama classes for the purpose of relationship-building. Some of these games came from books that I have acquired over the years and some came from workshops that I’ve attended. I will give credit whenever memory serves me well enough to do so. Many of these games are much like oral literature in that they are passed by word-of-mouth over time and tweaked by each new recipient, so the way I present them are versions of the way I learned them, but I’m certain they have changed from the way I was taught in a subtle or maybe even sometimes drastic way, just as I’m sure that the way I was taught was personalized by the teachers in some way, shape, or form as well.

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THE GAMES

☆☆☆ —> THE MAGIC SUBSTANCE

The Wizard
Photo Credit: Sean McGrath via Compfight

Source: A Drama Workshop (but I can’t remember which one–sorry!)

Premise: Suspend your disbelief. Sit in a circle. One person (the starter) in the circle has a magical substance. It can take any form or shape. The starter should play with the substance for a while, changing it’s weight, size, texture a few times before passing the substance to the person sitting next to him/her. (S/he may choose to the left or to the right.) That person must receive the magical substance as it is delivered to him or her, but then s/he must change it somehow before passing it to the next person. Each person, in turn, must receive the substance as is and change it somehow before passing it, until it comes back to the starter.

Note: You may not change the substance into a thing. For example, you can’t change it into a cell phone or a gun. It must just be an indefinable, but constantly-morphing, magical substance at all times.

 

☆☆☆ —> DEFENDER

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk] via Compfight

Source: Theater for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual by Michael Rohd (with a foreword from one of my all-time favorite educators, Dr. Doug Paterson from University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Premise: Move around the space freely. While in motion, everyone must SILENTLY and WITHOUT OBVIOUS FANFARE choose a Defender and an Enemy. In the time remaining (5 minutes or less) continue moving (still silently) around the room, but the object is to always keep your Defender between yourself and your Enemy.

Note: In some cases, individuals will select a Defender who has selected him/her as an Enemy. This only adds to the complexity and challenge of the game. Encourage students to choose others who they would not normally choose. (For example, someone may choose their best friend as their “enemy” for this game, or someone with whom they’ve rarely talked as a defender.)

☆☆☆ –> BLOB TAG

 

Source: I don’t remember. (EEK!)

Premise: One player is The Blob. (In traditional tag, this person would be called “IT.”) Everyone else must try to stay away from The Blob. The Blob must try to tag everyone else. Once The Blob tags someone else, that someone else, hooks arms with The (original) Blob and becomes a part of The Blob him/herself. Each person who is subsequently tagged becomes part of The Blob until EVERYONE is part of The Blob.

Note: You will want to set boundaries in the space, especially if you are in a large one. A stage, a commons area, a gym, or an outdoor space works well for this.

 

 

BONUS: Blog Tag + Costumes (This was taken during Homecoming Week on Cartoon Day.)

 

 

☆☆☆ —> BUNNY

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Source: A Church Youth Leader, somewhere in Minnesota … 

Premise: Form a circle. Choose someone to be the Starter. The Starter places his/her two thumbs on the side of his/her head with the rest of his/her finger stretched outward. (Think of the nanny-nanny-boo-boo gesture.) S/he wiggles his/her hands and says “Bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny.” On the 7th(ish) “bunny” s/he takes his/her hands off of his/her head and puts his/her palms together and “sends” or “zaps” the bunny to someone else in the circle. Whomever the Starter points to then receives the bunny, by placing his/her hands in the aforementioned “bunny” stance AND the person to the receiver’s right, places his/her right hand on the right side of his/her head and the person to the left places his/her left hand on the left side of his/her head and all three people chime in with “Bunny X 7ish” until the middle person zaps the bunny across the circle again. If any of the three receivers do not react quickly enough, or make the wrong gesture, that person is OUT and steps out of the circle. As more and more people get OUT, the circle tightens until it gets down to three. The last three will be the quickest paced portion of the game because ALL three people will be involved in ALL of the bunnies. When it gets down to TWO, you must have a VEGETABLE DUEL. (A vegetable duel can be used to settle all sorts of classroom scores, by the way.) For the vegetable duel the last two people must stand back to back, until the duel master spurs them to take four swift paces away from one another. Then the duel master must call out the name of a vegetable. Upon hearing the name of the vegetable both duelers must turn and do an impersonation of the chosen vegetable. Whoever makes the best impersonation of said vegetable (as determined by duel master or by clapping vote–house rules) WINS.

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☆☆☆ —> CIRCLE DASH

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Source: Theater for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual by Michael Rohd

Premise: Form a circle with one volunteer in the middle. The object of the game is to get out and stay out of the middle, but it’s also to challenge yourself with taking a (safe) risk with the help of another student. When the person in the middle isn’t looking, make eye contact with someone at least one person away from you. Make eye contact with that student and give a slight nod, raise your eyebrow, or make some sort of tiny gesture to indicate that you want to trade places with that person. Once you and the other person have silently agreed to trade spots, make a run for it. When you are in transit, the person in the middle will try to take one of your spots. If s/he does, then you will take his/her spot in the middle and try to take someone else’s spot, when s/he trades with another student.

Note: This is the only game during which I have been positively FLATTENED by a student in her zeal to trade spaces with the student who was standing next to me. It hurt like HELL, caused bruising, and the student felt awful about it, but it was also really really funny. The students couldn’t believe I wasn’t mad. I explained, “That’d be like me getting upset that I got tackled in a mosh pit. It’s all good.”

—> BABY I LOVE YOU

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Source: A Childhood Game

Premise: Everyone sits in a circle. Someone volunteers to be the Starter. The Starter turns to the person on his/her left (his/her choice) and states, “Baby, I love you, but I just can’t make you smile” using any voice or facial express s/he desires. However, s/he may not touch the receiver. The person who receives this message must follow these guidelines: Eye contact is required. No sucking in cheeks or biting lips. S/he must not smile or laugh. If s/he smiles or laughs s/he is out. If the Starter gets that person out, s/he must repeat the process with the next person in the circle. If the Starter does not succeed in making the Receiver smile, then the Receiver must go through the process with the next person in the circle. As more and more people get OUT the circle must tighten and those who are out can become the audience. When it gets down to the “stone cold killahs” you can choose new bizarre phrases for them to try out on one another. (For example: “I baked you a muffin” or “I’m a cotton-headed ninny muggins” could work, but you know what will make your group giggle.) The last person standing is the winner and should be celebrated as such with joyous aplomb.

Note: I usually play the games with the students, but this is one from which I abstain, simply because it is too weird for kids to be telling me they love me, even in jest.

 

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Other Resources that I <3 <3 <3 (in no specific order)

  • Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal (translated by Adrian Jackson)
  • 3-Minute Motivators by Kathy Paterson
  • Theater Games for the Classroom: A Teacher’s Handbook by Viola Spolin
  • Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss

You make a post. I make a post.

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: nebojsa mladjenovic via Compfight

My students are all playing a variation of the 11 (wo)man/sunshine award game that I played with some friends over this past winter break. In the spirit of sharing, and playing by my rule of “If I ask them to do it, I should probably try it on for size too, I told my young bloggers that they could pose some questions to me too. The results are below.

Trevor C:

What do you like about being a teacher?

This is a hard one because I like many things about being a teacher. One thing is that I get to hang out with young people all day Monday through Friday and it is hard to rival the spirit of a young mind. The other thing is that one of my favorite things to do is learn. Working for an institution of learning is a dream come true for me. In this job, I am always learning–from my students, from my colleagues, from books, from successes and from failures in the classroom.

Colleen A:

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I decided to do a little research on this because optimally, if I was faced with eating one food for the rest of my life, I would want to survive for as long as possible. After discovering the answer, as confirmed by several savory and unsavory sites in a wide range of credibility, I discovered that milk is probably my best bet. However, I STRONGLY DISLIKE MILK. Gag. This caused me to change my approach. Since this is a hypothetical question, I will answer it hypothetically, and just choose a food that I love. I’m going to go with pasta. It’s delicious and you can sneak interesting ingredients into it. It also comes in a wide array of shapes, which would help with the boredom factor of eating a single food for the rest of my life. However, if this situation came to fruition, it seems that it would result in my eventual organ failure, which, frankly, does not sound like a good time.

Jessie G:

Have you always wanted to be a drama teacher?

Since I was a child, I enjoyed both “playing school” and going to the theater. My mom was a 4th grade teacher, so I grew up valuing education and learning and my parents did right by me in exposing me to all sorts of artistic experiences. However, the idea of TEACHING THEATER really did not occur to me until it was right in my lap. Due to a set of circumstances I could not have predicted, the drama classes and fall play director position opened up, and due to my appreciation of theater and (some very limited) experience in theater, it seemed like a good opportunity, so I took it. I am really happy I did.

Connor D:

Why did you become an English teacher?

I love reading and I love writing. I also think teenagers are the coolest, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

If you didn’t want to be come a teacher what would your profession be?

Most likely, I would be a writer or an artist (or both). I would also most likely be very poor.

Cheyenne M + Mack B:

What is your favorite movie and why?

One of my favorite movies is Beetlejuice because it’s funny and macabre. Another is Tommy Boy because it is so funny. I also love the movie Dancer in the Dark because it is like no other movie I’ve ever seen and it ingeniously captures the beauty of musical theater in a very tragic way. Shawshank Redemption is a another marvelously clever and heartbreaking movie.  The Princess Bride is one that I could watch over and over and never tire of it–same goes for The Neverending Story and Elf.I have so many favorite movies. I cannot pick just one! I could do a whole blog post about favorite movies … maybe even a whole blog …

Joe N:

What would you do if you were givin 10 billion dollars?

I would take care of my church and family. Then I would open a school with a focus on student interest and fine arts integration–with a hand-picked staff. Then I would try to give away as much of it as I could as fast as I could to help as many people as I could.

Jordan R:

What’s your least favorite thing about teaching?

In all honesty, it’s the grading system. I want students to learn for the sake of learning and I see so many of my students stressing themselves out about getting the A. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate students who are eager to achieve, but it makes me sad to hear a student say that s/he crammed to get an A on the test, but afterward can’t remember a single thing that was on it. I wish I could inspire more students (and parents and colleagues) to be in it for self-improvement and learning.

Rachel S:

What is your favorite body part?

I think eyes are super cool. They are a really complicated part of the body and play such an important role in conveying body language.

Michelle K:

If you could modify a snail to go faster, how would you modify it?

If the goal is to get the snail to go faster than it normal goes, I would give it a good meal and some warm words of encouragement. I would modify its attitude.

Susan S:

Would you rather be on the stage or work backstage?

I’ll take a behind-the-scenes position over a performance position any day of the week. I like to contribute to artistic endeavors, but I would prefer to do so without a spotlight trained on me.

How did you get the name Xiola for, well, Xiola?

It’s from a song.

What is your favorite color?

BLACK. Some people say black is not a color, but I say, I can see it; I know what it looks like; and I love it. Strangely enough, black has been my favorite color since I was a wee lass. My grandma asked me what my favorite color was when I was 4 and I told her “black.” She said, “No it’s not!” I said, “Yes it is. I love black licorice jelly beans and I love the color black.”

What is your favorite musical?

This is another one of those “choose your favorite child” questions. I have many, but as of late, I’m really digging Wicked. I’ve been fortunate enough to see it twice and the music is astounding. It hits me right in the heart. The message is beautiful too. Incidentally, I used to HATE musicals. I also used to hate onions. Now I love them both.

Of all three one-act plays you have done, which was your favorite and why?

I would have to vote for The Happy Prince. It was challenging and the message was quite meaningful to me. It was also the most artistic of the three I’ve directed.

Taylor B:

If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be?

I would probably pick Belize because my husband and I intended to go there over 12 years ago when we were first married, but we were unable to. It would be nice to finally take our honeymoon.

Danny C:

Have you ever invented your own words?

Oh yes indeedly-do. Shakespeare did it. So can I!

Jacob W:

Why do you think that there are mimes in the world? What purpose do they serve beyond entertainment?

Mimes were put on earth to express things that cannot be expressed in words. (Where did you come up with this question? Hahaah!)

If anyone could get their stories published and printed regardless of social status and quality of work, what impact would that have on modern literature?

Well, I hate to say it, but there would be a whole bunch of bad literature out there. Honestly, online/self-publication has made this possible. This is sort of happening right now. However, it also allows people with high quality work that, for whatever reason, hasn’t received the notice it deserved, to get recognition. Therefore, like most things, there are pros and cons.

Jenna W:

Why do birds always fly into your window? Do they like really love you or do you they really hate you?

I would like to think that it has nothing to do with love or hate or really anything about me at all. I believe they fly into my window because either A. our custodians have done such a nice job of cleaning my windows that they don’t realize there is glass there, OR B. the trees outside my window are reflected in the glass and the birds believe they are landing on a tree branch. The signs that I put up seem to be doing to trick as of late … or maybe it’s the papier-mâché albatross that a parent made for our fall play that has stopped the senseless bird concussions.

Josh H:

If you could choose to either be a play director or a teacher what would you choose and why?

Luckily, I don’t have to choose, because I can be both in my current position. That being said, I wouldn’t mind a career change at some point in my life and directing would be a possibility. This won’t be happening for a long while though. You’re stuck with me for now.

 

Relationship Is King! (A Beginning of the Semester Sharing Activity)

 

Big Heart of Art - 1000 Visual Mashups
Photo Credit: qthomasbower via Compfight

Building relationships is king in my teaching philosophy. It trumps content every day of the week. If a student doesn’t trust you, it is very hard for them to learn (what you want them to learn) from your class.

That is why when we come back from break, whether a class is semester-long with all new students, or year-long with returning students, I like to focus on building new relationships or strengthening existing ones.

Yesterday was a cold day. In other words, we got the day off because it was so cold–so like a snow day, without snow, and probably colder than the average snow day. I spent the day catching up on housework (ugh) and reading articles that people from my PLN posted (yay!). One of the things I stumbled upon was this NPR article: These Are A Few Of Your Favorite Things. After I read it, I knew that I wanted to do this as an opening activity with all of my students. Good thing school was called off yesterday or this might not have happened.

I’m sharing the article with them today through my Twitter feed. My requirements for the assignment are as follows.

FAVORITE THINGS ASSIGNMENT:

  1. Read this NPR article: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.
  2. Choose 5-10 items to photograph.
  3. Arrange them, artfully. (See the article for examples.)
  4. Photograph them with your iPad.
  5. Write a brief description of each item and why you selected it.
  6. If you want to, tweet a copy of the photo, using our class hashtag: World Lit = #phsWORlit; Contemp Lit = #phsCONlit; Forensics II = #phs4N6; Drama = #phsDRAMA; A.P. English Lit and Comp = #phsAPeng.
  7. Submit your photo and writing to our shared Google Drive folder.

As usual, I will be participating in this assignment as well. If I am asking my students to expose personal facts about themselves, I must do the same. After all, relationships are for taking, but the giving is the most important part.

When I have completed the assignment, I will post my photo and writing here. If my students give me permission, I will post some of their photos and writing here too. Stay tuned.

 

UPDATE: Here are the results of the assignment:

#phsWORlit #phsCONlit #phsAPeng Favorite Things Assignment–> Desk: One of my favorite places to be is school where so much learning takes place, so I chose a desk as a backdrop. Top Hat and Rabbit Ears: As a drama teacher, I appreciate what a simple bit of costuming can do for an actor or even a non-actor. Modge Podge: In my (very limited spare time) I like to dabble in art–specifically mixed media art and one of my main ingredients is Modge Podge. Hagrid Figurine: I am a Harry Potter nerd. Literature Anthology: Reading books is one of my favorite things to do and I can’t pick just one favorite, so I chose this anthology since it is full of a variety of stories and poetry. Note Card: My Fall Play cast gave this to me in a bouquet of flowers after our show wrapped this year. My students are very important to me. Skull: The image of a skull represents many things to me: theater, the fragility of life, decomposition and a return to the Earth. Pencil: I love to write and sketch with a pencil. Ticonderogas are the best. Photo: These are my three favorite people -> my husband and my two daughters.

The Troll of Procrastination

Procrastination is a troll who sits on your shoulder and whispers little reminders into your ear, disallowing any sense of enjoyment in whatever activity you are engaged. It slowly drags its claws across a chalkboard which it keeps on its person for this purpose alone. When you succumb to procrastination, you give up your chances at being fully cognitively present in any given activity–even one you love. It robs you of your ability to engage with the ones you love. Procrastination is a boiling saw blade, piercing the periphery of anything that brings one pleasure. Procrastination is a blinking, beeping satellite which orbits one’s head, in constant reminder of what has been left undone, but that which cannot be left so. It is one of my greatest enemies and I am going to do my best to eradicate the  troll from my life, but I know this troll is giant and not one easily defeated.

 

On guard!

This break, I actually took a break.

During the past two weeks, my school district took winter break. We finished up finals and the students vacated the premises of the school building. Before leaving, I tried my hardest to finish up grading.

Impossible.

However, I made a considerable dent in the stack and entered as many grades as possible. I even posted grades for four of my classes–before leaving for break.

Breakthrough!

The weekend before Christmas, I finished grading the papers and posted the remaining two classes’ grades. This meant that I had NO grading to do for the rest of the break. This has never happened before in my 13 years of teaching. (I just finished my 13th year of teaching! I was a mid-termer and was fortunate enough to find employment mid-year.) I always had a lot of grading to do over break, sometimes because of poor planning on my part, sometimes because of bad luck, and sometimes because I procrastinated–usually because of the first and third reasons. Bad luck is usually a symptom of the first and third reasons.

This year, I planned better; I was lucky; and I didn’t procrastinate.

As a result, I spent time with my kids and family, read books, watched an entire Netflix series, cleaned, caught up on laundry (which is another rarity in the Morgetron household), went to THREE movies, IN A THEATER (big deal in Morgetron land), played with my dogs, hung out with my chickens, helped my husband deliver firewood, created a flyer and business cards for our new business, and I did so without the distraction of a task left undone, looming over my conscience.

As a result, I feel refreshed and I will be a better teacher this semester.

That which feeds the soul, clears the path for bigger tasks.

My cup runneth over.

Sunshine in Winter

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Photo Credit: Paul VanDerWerf via Compfight

One of the things that I expect my PLN to do for me is to challenge me. Yesterday, one of my tweeps, Craig Badura did just that in the form of a blog challenge. It was a challenge all right (especially Question #3), but it was also fun. This challenge is designed to allow your PLN to get to know you better–so essentially, I just wrote about myself. Blah blah, blahhhhh.

I guess some folks call this the Eleven (Wo)Man Game or the Sunshine Award. I just call it, “let me tell you a little something about Jodie L. Morgenson.”

11 Random Facts About Me

1. I prefer to buy my clothing and furniture second-hand, but I have a very specific, yet unpredictable and eclectic taste, which can be both tiresome and rewarding. I love love love old, used, weird stuff with stories behind them. I adhere to the Wabi Sabi point of view regarding possessions, though I am not above re-purposing stuff.

2. One of my life philosophies is–LIFE is TOO SHORT FOR BORING SOCKS!!!–in all caps and with three exclamation points!!! because you should shout this when you say it or think it. (The above-statement about second-hand clothing does NOT apply to socks, as I firmly believe in one-owner socks and undergarments, but the portion of the statement about a specific taste in socks DOES.) I believe in this statement both literally and metaphorically.

3. My best friend is building me a shed (out of materials he scavenged, found, or re-purposed) that I will eventually use as an art studio.

4. My best friend and I started a CSA over the winter break. We have one customer (share-holder) so far. We hope to have at least 10, but no more than 20 before the growing season begins.

4.2 My best friend is my husband, Caleb. (My kids are my best friends too, but they are not allowed to know this until they are older.)

5. Chickens–I have a (healthy …?) obsession with them. They remind me of dinosaurs. They have personalities. They are fascinating to observe. We have 20 of them, but soon we will only have 14. (We just can’t keep 7 roosters. Sorry guys. Chanticleer gets to live.) They are mean to each other and the hens, but they will also be delicious. I am mostly a vegetarian–mostly–but I do eat what I grow, and I grow chickens.

6. I don’t think I could survive without music–all kinds of music–rock and roll, jazz, punk, pop, bluegrass, old-school country, metal, R&B–but I don’t know how to play any musical instruments. (I wish I could. I have a banjo, on which I intend to one day master basics.)

7. Travel is something I just straight up dig. I like staying in hotels, someone’s guest room, bunkhouses, campers, cabins, and tents. I like eating meals prepared by other people in homes or restaurants in towns other than my own. I like meeting people that I might not ever meet again. I love love love learning about other ways of living. I have been to South America and Western Europe, but I still want to visit Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and maybe even Antarctica. I would also like to spend more time on the west coast of the U.S. I have never been to California, but I want to go there soon.

8. A long time ago, I thought I wanted to be an actor, but now that I’ve directed plays, I know that I very much prefer to be behind the scenes making things tick, unseen. It is quite rewarding to me.

9. One time I wrote a play and it was produced in a local theater. I want to do that again someday.

10. I have written two drafts of two novels and someday I’d sort of like to dust them off, polish them up, and get them published.

11. I believe that the whole world is poetry–every action, everything, every thought.

12. In challenges like this I cheat. I add on a .2 on a number I already used, include 12th fact or pack several facts in to one number. You have to watch me. I am a subversive system-bucker. SHAZAM!

11* Educator Tweeps who’ve changed me for the better because they are a part of my PLN:

Amanda Dickey
Beth Still
David Theriault
John Hardison
Kelly Falch
Katey Girard
Keegan Korf
Michele Corbat
Michelle Janda
Rachel Haider
Starr Sackstein
William Chamberlain

*Actually there’s 12. Hahaha! More cheating!

Craig’s 11 questions and my responses:

1.  What motivates you?  Feedback motivates me. If I am doing something well, I want to hear someone say I am doing it well. If I am doing something not-so-well, I want to know so that I can improve upon it. Results motivate me as well. If I see that something I am doing can help someone or make someone’s life better that spurs me into action and propels me to continue.

2.  Is the iPad a distraction in the classroom? Frankly, YES, at first it is. However, once you set expectations and hold students accountable for those expectations, the iPad is incredibly useful as a learning tool.

3.  In your opinion, who has been the most influential person in the history of the world?  Sheesh. The history? Of the world? not MY world, but THE world? This one is a head-tapper, Craig. Positive influence? Negative influence? I’m going to go with a positive influence and I’ll pick Jesus Christ.

4.  Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right thing?  I am terrified of doing things wrong, which is the most common fuel to my procrastination. I don’t do things I believe are (ethically) wrong, so I guess I’m not really worried about doing the right thing. I’m more worried about NOT doing the right thing out of fear of not getting it “right”.

Does that even make sense?

5.  What’s one thing you have not done that you really want to do? I would like to go on a honeymoon to Belize with my husband. We were going to shoot for our 1-year anniversary, but we had a baby instead, and then we were going to go on our 10-year anniversary and that didn’t work out either, but our 15th looks promising.

6.  What is your happiest childhood memory? My grandparents lived on an acreage and the times I went into the woods by myself are some of the happiest. Times on the tire swing behind their house was pretty rad too–especially when I didn’t have to share it with anyone. Obviously, I enjoy solitude.

7.  What is best part about about current job? The community in which I teach is the best part of my current job. I love them all–students and their families, and my colleagues and superiors. I had one kid graduate from here and another one in the system and I am so grateful that they could grow up in this system.

8.  Which is worse, failing or never trying? By all means–never trying is waaaaaaay worse than failing which is why my answer to #4 really bothers me. I am totally okay when students fail at a task, or when my own children fail at something, but I do not like to fail myself and that holds me back from trying sometimes. I need to work on being okay with not getting everything right. After 37 years, you would think I would have a grip on that.

9.  iOS or Android? I am an Apple girl tried and true. My family’s first computer was an Apple IIe.

10.  Do you have a bucket list actually written down somewhere? I sure don’t.

11.  Why did you become a teacher? I like reading. I like writing. I appreciate young people (especially those who can tie their own shoes and require no assistance in the restroom).

If you are going to do this, here are the rules:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger. (Hi again, Craig!)
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition. (Not sure I can find 11 that haven’t already done this, but I’ll take a stab at it!)
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
If you are going to do this, here are the questions* I want you to answer:
  1. If you had to choose an animal to morph into occasionally (like an Animagus like Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series or a skin-changer like Beorn from The Hobbit) which animal would you choose and why?
  2. What is the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received and from whom did you receive said advice?
  3. What gadget could you not live without (or at the very least living without it would drastically change the way you live) and why?
  4. What Pandora station did you last listen to?
  5. Why/how do you use Twitter or other social media outlets?
  6. Use one song title, book title, lyric, or quote to sum up your 2013 and indicate one that you’d like to use to set the tone for your 2014.
  7. What is one of the greatest things you’ve ever heard a student say?
  8. What is your favorite snack?
  9. What is the last movie you saw in a theater? Also, rate it with your own rating system.
  10. Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?
  11. If you were going to form a music band, and could choose any non-musicians–factual, fictional, alive, or dead–who would you pick; what role would each person play in the band (including you); what type of music would you play; and what would your band be called?

*Some of them aren’t actually questions. (Tee hee.)

This Feels Like Failure: Why Are So Many Students Dropping My Advanced Placement English Class?

I teach an Advanced Placement English class. It’s a challenging class. It’s hard. Really. There are times when it’s not fun. High school me would’ve struggled with it. Undergrad me probably would’ve struggled with it a bit. Shoot! Come to think of it, there are days when I would struggle with it now, if I were juggling what my students are juggling.

The students have to learn difficult vocabulary–words that show up frequently in classic literature–and they have to use said vocabulary in context. They have to learn how to identify AND write in sentence structures that I didn’t learn about until college or after. They have to read challenging, sometimes dense, sometimes archaic, sometimes confusing (but beautiful! controversial! poetic! lovely! wonderful! universally truthful), texts, rife with figurative language, dripping with irony, loaded with difficult-to-decipher symbols (but that have withstood the test of time). They are in charge of leading discussions. They are responsible for analyzing literature through writing.

I view this class as not just a way to prepare for the Advanced Placement test they will (hopefully) take (and DOMINATE) in the Spring, but to prepare them for college, and more importantly, to ready them for the cruel world after college. In it, they are exposed to rich content, but even more importantly–they practice and (usually) master transferable skills that they will use for the rest of their lives: effective writing in multiple modes, critical thinking, creativity, idea generation, collaboration, decision-making, time management …

They blog. They analyze. They interact face-to-face. They interact digitally. They do or do not hit deadlines (and there are consequences for both). They write. They speak. They think. They think. They think. They think and think and think!

They are currently synthesizing their skills in the form of a mimesis–an assignment that requires them to create an original short story that mimics (in more than one way) the work of a famous author, whom they have studied in depth. It is–to use one of their vocabulary words–arduous. It is hard work. It takes time. It takes tenacity. It’s not something most people can write in an hour and half (though I have a student who claims he did … !)

And, at the end of last week and today, nearly half of them brought me paperwork to drop my class at semester.

Herein lies my feeling of failure.

Some of the students have legitimate-sounding excuses for dropping the class. Some of them do not. However, underneath all these reasons–legit or not–is a nagging question: What did I do wrong?

I want this class to be rigorous. In fact, it’s required, by College Board standards to be rigorous. My district requires it to be rigorous. However, I don’t want to be so rigid as to drive away my students. They are, after all, some of my favorite people in the whole world! Don’t get me wrong: I realize that not every students is cut out for Advanced Placement English, and it is a typical event for some of them to drop at semester, but the sheer number of drops this time around has me in a bit of a stupor.

As a result of these drops, I’m not feeling like the greatest teacher. Not that I ever feel like I am THE greatest teacher, but today, I am feeling pretty down. It is my instinct to keep these feelings to myself or maybe to whine a little to one of my mentors, but I have decided to reflect here–”out loud”–because I don’t think we lament enough in public. It’s important to put our best selves forward to the world when we can, but it’s also okay to reveal the moments that are the most trying. This week has started out with a fizzle, but this anticipated mass exodus of students has deepened my resolve to continually improve myself as a teacher. But for today, I’m going to take some time to marinate in this feeling of disappointment and to labor over my aforementioned question, along with these:

  • What can I do differently to retain more of my students?
  • What can I do to impart–to students and their parents–that what you learn in a class is more important than the almighty grade?
  • Is this class’s level of rigor befitting a entry-level college English literature and writing course or have I taken it too far?
  • Are my expectation too high? (I don’t think so–but believe me–I will think about this.)

I’m holding onto the hope that tomorrow and the next day and the next day will be better days–as a result of reflection and time. I’m holding onto the hope that next semester, I’ll be a better teacher–as a result of this semester’s events and as a result of this public reflection on some very raw feelings.

Make a young person’s day by leaving a simple comment on a blog! #comments4kids

*Updated from my April 2013 post

My students, like many writers, crave feedback! Here is a LINK to a roster of their blogs: http://morgetron.edublogs.org/my-students-passion-blogs/  If you have the time and the *positive* energy to share, please visit one or more of them and leave them a little (or big) message. It will make their day!

The best types of comments are
A. questions that extend the conversation
Why do you believe the unicameral is such a positive thing?
OR
Do you believe that this will change the way we do business in America?

B. observations about the content or style of the post
I noticed that you are very passionate about aliens!
OR
I’d never thought about deer habitats from the perspective of a deer before I read your post.

C. counter-points to a position (done respectfully)
As someone who has experienced hunger first-hand, I disagree with your stance on welfare.

D. personal or observational connections you made to their post
This reminds me of the time I made my teacher laugh so hard, she cried.
OR
Your writing reminds me of David Sedaris’s!

E. compliments!
Wow! This is some dandy writing!
OR
Keep writing! This is goooooood stuff!

In all honesty, though, I believe ANY comment–even brief ones–can encourage students to continue writing. Just knowing they have an audience will propel them.

Thank you for your time!

 

Retelling the Canterbury Tales

For my World Literature students:

canterbury_8_lg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we’ve read “The Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales, “The Pardoner’s Tale” and the “Wife of Bath’s Tale”, you are going to (re)tell a tale yourself.

You and your partner(s) should choose from the tales posted on this Google doc and sign up by telling Mrs. M. which story you have selected.

Goals

-To creatively and accurately interpret a piece of classic text.

Follow these steps:

1. Choose a tale. (Skim the tales HERE, so you get a feel for what you’re signing up for.)

2. Read the tale (and the intro, prologue and/or epilogue, if applicable).

3. Write a summary of the tale and show the summary to Mrs. M for approval.

4. Plan out a retelling—> How do you want to present it? Who will play which character? What format will you use? When will you practice it?

5. Create a TEASER with the VINE app. Here’s an example of what that might look like.

6. Create a LIVE retelling of the story to present in class. You should present your tale in either a modern OR a medieval way (your choice) and you should bring the character(s) to life through VOICE, COSTUME, and BODY LANGUAGE. In some cases, this will mean that you will be playing more than one character. You might present it any way you wish though. For instance, you may go into “story time with <insert your name>” mode OR  you might pretend to host a talk show about the tale of your choice. You will also be judged on the accuracy of your retelling.

This is the single-point rubric I’ll be using to grade your project: CTretellingRUB.

Here are some ideas from 2013’s first semester class.

The Reeve’s Tale: This pair presented their tale in the form of a newscast. One student was the news reporter and he interviewed the other student who was in character as The Reeve. The reporter asked The Reeve leading questions and The Reeve gave an accurate account of what happened to him from his point of view.

The Monk’s Tale: This student worked alone and she presented each of the mini-tales within The Monk’s Tale in the form of sing-songy poetry. It was a very clever way to summarize this overwhelming tale.

The Friar’s Tale: This pair presented their tale in the form of a kindergarten story hour, which was interesting, considering the dark topic. They asked for audience participation and assigned roles to their classmates as they told their tale. They also asked lots of questions and taught their peers the meaning of some of the more archaic terms and language. They also asked in which style the “children” would like the tale to be told, to which one of the “children” (me) asked them to do it in a Southern accent. This had nothing to do with the story, but it added an element of fun and it helped to engage the audience.

WRITE AN EPIC MONSTER STORY!  

monstahhhh

EPIC POEM BASICS

  • The HERO is an nationally (or internationally) important (often legendary or historically significant) figure who is (usually) physically imposing and/or attractive.
  • The SETTING is vast — it may span the nation, the world, even the universe (or in our case, it might be local — as in the school or Springfield.
  • The QUEST consists of good deeds, bravery (sometimes at a supernatural level), supernatural powers and interference or assistance from forces beyond the realm of humanity (“the gods,” angels, or other heavenly–or otherwise–forces).
  • The writing STYLE is one of grand simplicity and is told objectively.

ASSIGNMENT

YOUR story MUST have

  • a HERO (like Beowulf) and
  • a SOCIAL PROBLEM, as represented metaphorically by the MONSTER (like Grendel and his representation of the Devil or anything that worked against Biblical teachings).
  • Your HERO must accept a QUEST and
  • some sort of supernatural interference or powers must be present somewhere in the story.
  • Your STYLE may be presented objectively, or you can approach it in a more contemporary narrative style.
  • It is okay to exaggerate the social problem for the sake of increasing your story’s excitement.

The paper should be TYPED, and DOUBLE-SPACED.

Image Credit:

“The New Guy.” Florida Center for Instructional Technology. Educational Technology Clearinghouse. <http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/ 86500/86537/86537_the-new-guy.htm>. September 10, 2013.