The intent of “Talk Tuesdays” was twofold: to use the readings/texts in a purposeful way, and invite students to think about discussion, and practice.
Well, that is the intent, and we all know about roads paved, etc. But I think I became too distracted or mired in the concept of ‘accountable talk.’ I’m not sure if you know my connotative negative bias toward the word ‘accountable’ when it comes to students. Accountable talk is a buzzkill idea. There. I said it. However, sometimes students think it’s going to be a free-for-all talk fest, and, well, sometimes it is. And that’s okay. I would rather have things turn more raucous than censored.
But somehow, and I’m speaking purely for myself, putting the descriptor ‘accountable’ on anything makes it taste like educational cardboard. If we start thinking about what are real purpose is, what we want students to be engaged, and even enchanted by, is sharing ideas in a passionate, “oh oh oh!!” way–and it’s okay if not everyone is excited about every topic. I know I’m not, and that honesty with students helps them know that sometimes they are not as emotionally invested in a topic as others.
Key ingredients exist in any interesting conversation:
An emotional stake (personal connection and empathy)
Ambiguous, essential questions that have kaleidoscope viewpoints
Allowances to shift or pivot with new information (see my substantive form)
Metacognition: understanding one self in order to monitor and assess how important the topic or theme is to one personally; extrapolate to a larger scale
There are multiple pathways for discussion, too:
Town Hall meetings
Turn and Talk
Writing Workshop (next post)
Think, Pair, Share
About a thousand others (dang my hyperbole!)
The trick is to make sure students are listening, and having a chance with their say. It can come in the form of real talk, or on a class discussion board, etc. Two strategies I use are what I call the “ambassador of the table” idea. Whether or not I choose or they choose, there is an ambassador from each group who shares out what the group has said. Also, if it’s a small partner group of 2 to 3, each person has to share what the other said, and it’s always paraphrased. The person who is not speaking can then agree or repudiate what their partner interpreted.
While reading through her presentation, what caught my eye was the idea that ancient stories or ‘campfire stories’ are nonfiction. Campfire and ancient stories are something I’m very familiar with, having created units on early human story telling for 8th grade, that ties in with the World Studies history. At least I thought I was an expert, but according to Beers and Probst, campfire stories are non-fiction. I asked for clarification, and Roth’s interpretation of N&N Nonfiction makes sense: those stories were meant to inform. Yes, they were. They were origin stories, creation stories, explanations for the beginnings and the endings of things. That makes sense. But–and here is where I ran out and clicked on the book link to buy it–I can imagine teaching the context of genre and how genre shifts with new knowledge is going to be critical.
But before a rush to judgment, I will be reading with a lens that my personal theory is not all campfire stories were meant to inform. Or rather, humans didn’t need to hear and share stories with pure entertainment and escapism value. Nonfiction connotes such dryness for me, and that’s wrong. And I am going to check my bias, because more likely than not, my students believe stories as if they were factual, and it’s time to deconstruct that notion. Think about it: urban legends, social media comments, texts –they are not meant to entertain, but to state opinions as facts.
I remember when introducing Greek/Roman mythology trying to put it in context for students, and dancing around a theological line: these gods and goddess died because no (human) believed in them anymore, but at the time, the cultural belief system was as strong as any current religion today. Some students, occasionally, would suggest we bring back Zeus and Hera.
Perhaps there is another word, a portmanteau, that integrates fiction and nonfiction: truthiction? Stories intended to inform but are based on limited knowledge? Maybe I’ll leave that one up to my students next year to discuss and decide. Yes, I think that’s best.
Here is a better idea: if stories are meant to inform, enlighten, or motivate, then perhaps a unit on civic engagement is in order:
This blog acts as a digital sketchbook, a virtual cocktail napkin, as a means of my sorting of thoughts. I am truly interested in what you think, too, so please comment.
The question is: do we label ourselves and others too much?
I know a single mother whose son just graduated high school. Our sons went to School of Rock together, and she took some great photographs during my son’s time there. These young people are amazing musicians. She has survived cancer, is stunningly beautiful, smart, edgy, and talented. She has pink hair. She has perfect skin. She thinks for herself. This I’ve gathered from her social media posts, as I’ve never had the pleasure to meet in ‘in real life,’ or as gamers say, IRL. Her posts are engaging and interesting. I wonder, though, if I would still think so if I disagreed with them? And when politicians/voters label Sanders’ supporters with ‘BernieBro’ or “Sandanistas*’, how does she fit in? She’s almost fifty years old, and certainly not a ‘bro.’ But her voice doesn’t seem to ‘count.’ So whose does?
John Spencer had me thinking the other day (as he’s been known to do) when he commented on a post of mine about ‘toxic masculinity.’ At first, I justified my use of this term, because labels are convenient. The shorthand facilitates speed, but perhaps it does not produce contemplation. He stated:
“But there’s another risk, which is what happens when a negative term is applied to a group. Members of that group either view the critique as extreme and they tune it out or they actively fight against it. I’m not arguing for tone policing or man-splaining or anything like that. People can certainly feel free to use it. It’s just for me, “toxic masculinity” seems to have the same ickiness factor that “white trash” or “feminazi” or “radical Muslim” all have.”
I wonder if ‘white privilege’ fits in here, too. Not sure. What I do know is in this digital age we’ve become so accustomed to trying to be clever with the next quippy saying or catchphrase we don’t consider things in depth. Our human brains still respond emotionally. Which leads me to consider how we, and our students, are processing emotions without context. This processing is unrelenting and aggressive.
This chart is intended to be funny, but it amasses just as many tropes as any media. Is the way to fight stereotypes, sexism, racism, and hate with more? How do we reject the labels ascribed to us, and concurrently help students understand in their media worlds what ‘not taking something personally’ really means?
The findings suggest that emotional contagion can occur in an online social network, even without face-to-face interaction between two people. “We show that simply failing to ‘overhear’ a friend’s emotional expression via Facebook is enough to buffer one from its effects,” the authors wrote.
The Facebook users weren’t simply mimicking the emotions of their friends by writing fewer positive or negative posts; these users frequently displayed the opposite emotion of the one omitted in their feed.
What’s more, nonverbal behavior, or body language, doesn’t appear to be necessary for emotions to spread, the study showed. Text alone was enough to have an effect.
So students have been steaming in a big bowl of angry alphabet soup: words without physicality or nuance, and if a child sees themselves in a comment, or two, or two thousand, that pushes and prods, during this critical time of discovering identity how damaging must this be? Adolescents are known to push boundaries and experiment: a few weeks before school two of my quietest, seemingly nicest girls wrote some negative poetry. They literally wrote a narrative for another student. This may not have been a social media post, just good old-fashioned, old-school bullying,
My question remains: how do I inform students about what happens to their brains and emotions when they see negative things about themselves, their beliefs, their values, and their identities? I would think the direct approach would be best: anytime someone posts a fight ‘invitation’ on Facebook or other social media, they are willingly giving up their freedoms. They are behaving like indentured servants to some greater idea that neither loves nor cares for them, the idea of control. Or how about the sexual predator who stalks someone who is in a fog of romantic notions, seeking attention and affection? The archetype of the wolf is nothing new, it’s as old as the dawn; only the speed of digital information has changed. Go back to the shorthand/label: because of the speed we don’t process adequately. Cry wolf, and everyone shrugs. Same with “bully”: no one cares. Swipe right, swipe left, just swipe. Label and dismiss.
*No politician is without her or his label or derogatory term. And voters get labeled and characterized, too. If voters don’t want Hillary, the default is they’re sexist. If they do, they’re shrill hawks. At least for one, he is characterized by his actions, which are clear and forthright: xenophobic, racist, and dangerous. No question. Ah, see how that labeling thing works? You all know who I’m talking about.
But what gets lost in the labels are the policies, the plans, the ideas: what if news media used integrity and didn’t report on important issues like it was the Kardashians or a sports game? I think the words “winner” and “loser” have been used more in this campaign than I can remember. Or maybe that’s just me thinking about it differently. If students see things only in terms of win or loss, no wonder they have no field, no stable ground to steady their feet.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to present students with this question, and information: how do they detach unnecessary and incorrect labels/identities others attach? How can they use cognitive skills to be aware when a comment has hurt them? Remember they’re not running for office and haven’t developed the thick hides seasoned politicians have. (Well, some anyway.) As for myself, I’m trying to remember that my narrative is my own. I cannot control how or what others see. There aren’t just facts and opinions, but truths. The beliefs you can’t prove with numbers or data. And they’re not meant to be litigated or debated. For using labels such as ‘toxic masculinity’ I’ll use those labels to reflect and try to make sense out of the unreasonable. If it makes me stop and think, then it hasn’t been wasted time.
Most school districts are out for the summer. Do you know why we have summer break? The myth is because we were once an agrarian society, but alas, it is more akin to our consumer society, (myself included), and schools are just too dang hot in the summer months. A few weekends ago my areas saw temperatures in the 90s, although this weekend it’s back to cool and cloudy. Just in time to sit in a breezy amphitheatre to watch graduation ceremonies.
So–my post may be a little late. This is one of those end-of-school-year projects (and I use the word project loosely) you may want to tuck away from next year, including the beginning of the year as an ice breaker. It’s not original, and depending on your class structure and community, may fly or flop. That’s immaterial, however. It’s the “Demonstration” project.
This took over three block classes:
Students brainstorm what they are good at and could demonstrate
Students could have an ‘assistant’ but not a partner– individual grades. Their assistants were just that — an extra pair of hands, etc.
Some students used their time to research quick and easy things to demonstrate.
Rehearsal, filming, backdrops, screencastings
Students produced a wide variety of demonstrations: everything from card tricks, ‘how to draw’ certain things, how to hack a game (with screencastings).
Make sure they use a time device to track to ensure 2 minutes in length.
Finally: presentation day!
All backdrops and videos are ready to go
Students named are called in order
What goes wrong:
Namely, student egos.
I have one student who is unaware of how much he mocks others. He made one comment before a student showed his demonstration, and the presenter came up to me and asked if he could drop out seconds before, all because of this one comment. This is one of those things where no matter how much you prep students, “tell” them what to do or not to do as audience members, there is always one who doesn’t get it. I even had one student who packed up early because another teacher has put the fear of being tardy so deep in their psyches, (and this colleague does not support one or two minutes of being late if something runs long) she packed up before the last presenter got to present.
Timing, too: it was clear students did not use any timing device to time their presentations, so some didn’t get a chance. That was a relief for some, but quite frankly, when those who are hesitant to present see that others jump right in, it bolsters all.
One schadenfreude moment for me came when one student had clear instructions for a fortune teller paper-folding demonstration, and the audience was quite squirrely. This young lady has, on occasion, disrupted the class herself with her dabbing at Youtube videos. It’s the thing this year, suddenly seeing children tucking their faces in their arms, whilst throwing the other one to the sky, like a choreographed sneeze. I looked at her and asked, “It’s not that easy, is it?” She nodded.
What goes right:
Far more than what goes wrong. Students participated, threw paper airplanes, danced, clapped along, etc. The card and magic tricks still have me mystified (but then again it doesn’t take much). One student demonstrated how to push a needle through a balloon without popping it. One boy demonstrated lacrosse, while another hockey stick handling. Yes, I even had the inevitable ‘how to tie shoes’ but hey, if that can be a TedTalk, it’s certainly appropriate for seventh-grade students.
What would I do differently:
Start earlier in the year.
Intersperse humorous ‘how to-s’ throughout the year.
Have a rubric.
Have them brainstorm a list of ideas for the whole class.
PRACTICE NOT BEING A JERK. (You know who you are.)
Possibly put the best ones on a classroom blog….hmmm…..gives me an idea!
Well, onward. We have until next Friday, and I’m taking discretionary days for my son’s graduation.
PS The above illustration was a result of how to make a face from words, in this case the word “boy.”
PPS The best performance? A very wonderful young lady who has a soul and heart as open as the sky, who performed, in costume, the fluffy pink unicorn dance.