What was the first movie you ever saw? What was the one that made you cry? Which one terrified you so much you nearly ran, or did run, out of the theatre, or kept the lights on all night? Films and books/texts are not in conflict with one another, they act as pillars on a strong brain and heart. Our instructional time is eroded by so many other agendas, however, that when we’re mentally drained, and the desire to just pop in a movie overwhelms us, our good admin remind us that students have plenty of time to guzzle large doses of media. So bear with me here: this isn’t about popping in Mulan when you have nothing else planned. (Although I absolve you: I love Mulan.) And I guess I can make a strong case for Lion King (Hamlet), Cinderella (good chance to explain about blended families and friction), the Little Mermaid and how tragic fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen wrote are sanitized by Disney, and why. I could go on. And we all know that seldom is the movie as good as the book. That’s because they’re different species from the same phylum. Those are grand discussions in and of themselves.
But this is about those little films that get us to understand themes. Ideas. Beliefs. Movements. I’ll try to post as many as I have collected here, but am sure to leave some out. If you find some good ones, please click on the post and add a comment.
Are people under the notion that we teachers come out of the box, ready to manage classrooms, filled with books, joy, and learning? If you’re a parent you know this isn’t possible. Parenthood is often amateurish and messy. Things go awry. Same for teachers, whether we’re parents or not. The unexpected is expected. And the profound question of how do we support one another, both veteran and rookie alike, in the best manner possible?
This upcoming year I have the very good fortune to be working with beloved colleagues and newer ones. I am very excited — this past year I was on a great PLC, and this year proves to be just as wonderful. I am happiest when I can go to my ‘studio,’ create, and share, and see what other ideas folks cook up. But more importantly, just having friends, real friends at work, is something that the summer weeks don’t necessarily provide. Don’t misunderstand me, I love and need this break.
Let me put it this way:
But unless we get together with friends for coffee, we don’t want to talk about work, but we kind of do, too. When the school year is here it feels too late. Just how do we balance and prepare, and seek those collegial friendships before the school year starts, and more importantly, when we’re in the thick of it?
Don’t believe for one second that even veteran teachers aren’t constantly looking at their craft and reading and re-reading articles and advice. We need reflection and enhancement every year, month, week, and sometimes the day, from class to class.
Okay, not really analog. Just trying to be funny. This is real flesh and blood help. All the digital articles and PLNs (professional learning networks) in the world can’t help you in real time. You need a human, a comrade and colleague, but most of all a friend, right there —and here’s the magic secret: that friend needs you, too. If they’re a colleague worth his or her salt, they know how to share ideas and vulnerabilities. There is no room for bully teachers, especially in this day and age of the expectations and demands of teaching. (If you have ever been labeled a bully, please take a long hard look at that –if you think it’s unjustified find out way. If you think it’s correct, seek help.)
I am forever and always grateful to Kim Washam-Herd for being my mentor my first year of teaching. She encouraged me, listened, advised, and even said I was a pretty crier. Because, yes, I cried a lot the first few years. And times afterwards, too. Working in a high poverty school takes a toll on everyone, and it is critical we bond together.
We’re fortunate in our district to have a mentor program, although from some shared anecdotes it’s been spotty. Including Kim, I’ve worked with some amazing people. Some are still at the ‘Creek, and some have moved on. But most of us are still friends. If you have a shared history with folks prepare for some fallout, too–not everyone wants to be reminded of a place or time.
And may I offer this blog, too. I’ve been writing it since 2007, and it’s been my safe place to ponder, curate and reflect. But far, far more importantly: Start your own blog. Even if no one else reads it but you. Have your own place to curate articles, ideas, student work, etc. Make sure you protect students’ privacy, however, but other than that, no one is on your journey but you, or sees things from your perspective, and we need all the voices we can get. But again, that’s digital. And has its limits. I’ve had over 900 views this month alone, but not much back and forth communication.
There is only one way to do that:
So — an invitation. And please reciprocate. Let me come in your room and take pictures of the anchor charts you created, watch you teach, get to know your students, too, and please come in my room anytime. Let me know what kind of coffee you like. I’ll try to have a stash of chocolate I know you need. We do come out of the box with brains, heart, and experiences. Friendship is not extra, costs nothing, and is the best time spent. I’m right down the hall.
Last year one of my students had one of those lightbulb moments, that eureka shake up, awesome anagnorisis, where she completely understood what I meant by the concept of the difference between topic and theme.
This is a biggie. It’s important because it means I can do it. Because teaching theme…teaching it well that is..isn’t easy.
So on Thematic Thursdays, there is intentional time to do just that, however the strategy, whatever the current unit of study.
I am a lifelong devoted scholar of the study of themes, and yet, it is as painful to teach for me as doing my own dentistry sometimes. I need to just get over myself. Some teachers know how to simplify teaching theme, distill it to its most essential elements. This anchor chart isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s that last sentence starter that doesn’t hold up for me. Is theme a formula–if x then y? I don’t think it is. And I am also not sure if the author is always in control of one lesson in a work, be it a novel, poem, dance, art, or music. The danger is telling students there is only one answer. Theme is not a main or central idea. The central ideas help create the possible themes.
However, I approach teaching and discussing themes more like an alchemist. So what happens on Theme Thursdays? Again, any number of things. An exploration of a current unit, question, time to bird walk and discuss, muse, or laser focus on symbolism and motif? Creation of personal themes, missions, pledges, for one’s own narrative. We can look at art, read a poem, or perhaps prepare for Film Fridays.
Tim Shanahan has a pretty good post about this: http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com. I invite anyone who has something to add to this discussion to please do so: how do you ‘teach theme’ — is it by definition and then exploration, or the other way around?
“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” Saffran said in a statement.
That’s a helpful tip for parents and teachers, but overall, the study highlights yet another cognitive obstacle facing low-income children. Not only do poor children hear fewer words than rich ones—the gap is estimated to reach 30 million words by age 3—they are more likely to live in loud environments, as McMillan and Saffran write. Their homes are more crowded, their schools are closer to highways, and they spend more time watching TV. (This phenomenon would help explain why children living in urban poverty have lower verbal working-memory scores than those in rural environments.
I would add another noise factor, too, and that is digital noise. Right now I am on overload because of the conventions, the news media, Twitter, Facebook, news outlets, sources, opinions, etc. I am obsessed with politics right now, and cannot seem to break away. Like many educators, I sense I am not alone in this compelling urgency to believe that learning and knowledge can triumph and rescue this historical moment. So I keep reading. I keep analyzing. And the curse of close reading is making my head hurt.
But this — all this — is a luxury, a privilege, of being a reader and thinker. Of growing up in a household, modest to be sure, but where quiet ruled. Where we were allowed to read as long as chores were done, and have mercy on our souls if we woke our mom up from a nap. Being alone and having space in one’s own head was a given growing up. Now I see it not as there wasn’t much else to do, but a gift.
Last year I had two semesters of Computer Skills for my elective. Though technology for publication and communication have always been the standards I’ve employed in my classrooms, this particular elective provided the chance to focus on some newer technologies not attached to content. One project was a podcast. Well, this exercise reminded me of the noise pollution in many homes. (It’s not relegated to homes in poverty, either. Some houses always have a television on, or music playing.) A diligent and creative student came to me in frustration because while she was trying to record her podcast at home she found it near impossible due to everyone else’s level of noise and interruptions. And though we have a room in our building intended for podcasting and filming, it’s been taken over with junk and other things, and proves inhospitable to recording. (I’m going to ask admin if this can be resolved next year, or at least clean out a space of our own for recording.) This is the question: how to make school/classrooms have those quiet/sacred places and times in the day?
This hearkens back to a great discussion on Notice and Note about homework. Not all students have a quiet place to read, practice, etc. I have homeless students. I have students who sleep on mattresses without sheets or blankets. I have students who have disabled siblings that require all the energy and care their parents can provide, leaving them to their own. There is not judgment here, only pragmatism. If I am aware as a teacher that some students face staggering challenges at home, isn’t it my direct purpose to provide reason and solace in the classroom? To explain and make transparent I am not asking for quiet because it makes life better for me, but a gift for them? And trust me — this is one of the most challenging things to do–getting students to be comfortable in their own heads. One student experienced such deep trauma, and was able to share with me that when it was quiet she was not in control of her thoughts just yet. Be aware of this, too, and come up with alternatives.
Middle school students, and probably high school ones, too, fight against all research and reason about multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the conversation and tell them what noise pollution damaged, and how to change habits.
Big talk coming from someone who can’t stop reading.
Okay — I’ll take the dog for a walk. Maybe I won’t even try to catch Pokemon, either.
Writing serves my creative mania. In my classroom, historically, we write more than we read. Do I love books? Of course! Am I passionate and excited about passages, excerpts, themes, patterns, characters, and juicy plots? Naturally! But in my experience, if you truly want to a student, a person– to engage, to spill their guts, to bare their soul and express themselves, writing is it.
Write It Right Wednesdays are mini-lesson moments and writing workshop days. Mini lessons are those quick, here is a “thing you need to know” thing. Writing Workshop is a very different animal, and all I’ve learned is from my mentors Holly Stein and Kim Norton through the PSWP (part of the National Writing Project). The Puget Sound Writing Project is no longer, unfortunately, but Holly and Kim began a new venture, PSW Consortium.
Here is Writing Workshop:
Your students write.
What do you write about? Whatever is on folks’ minds, part of the content, etc. Or Rule #10: write what you want.
Use images, news stories, personal anecdotes, objects, postcards, whatever.
Writing is sacred time.
If someone comes in the room to observe during this, they are asked to write, too.
In small groups, each person takes a turn to read their writing. Nothing is in the listeners’ hands. Nothing.
Second read: the listeners give feedback. Never, ever hand your writing over to someone else to read. Yes, it can get noisy. This is not about spelling or editing.
The listeners take a few minutes to verbally give feedback, and hand over the feedback slips to the writer.
The writer says “thank you.” That’s it. They can choose to take the listeners’ advice or not.