To round out the third quarter of the year, my students completed a more independent project where I asked them to write a made-for-TV drama script. The Murder We Wrote project centered around the driving question:
Using 12 Angry Men, as our mentor text, how do we, as young, creative writers,
craft a screenplay that uses the elements of plot/drama and courtroom terms to interpret/illustrate a court case?
It made for a good end of the quarter, because we were able to review some of what we learned last semester and apply it to our own creative endeavors. Students really took our acted-out version of 12 Angry Men. We also watched an episode of Law and Order SVU with an analytical lens for the three-act television drama. As a literacy task, we read police blotters and added characterization to the people who go unnamed or, worse yet, stereotyped by their police descriptions. Others took to the writing process with great strides, starting even before I introduced CeltX. Only a few, however, coordinated a series for the extra credit that I was offering.
With a curriculum very focused on research and expository writing, it was nice to dip into a creative format this year. Some students took the opportunity to write about relatable experiences, perhaps therapeutically. I was surprised at how many wrote about domestic abuse or petty violence, especially after the My Bloody Life project. Of course, there were the parties gone wrong, etc.. On a lighter note, I was happy to see that one student really took to the project, writing quite a long script with a twist ending. The student was a big fan of SVU; it was good to see that the project reached the student in ways that some of our other writing assignments (mostly essays) had not.
Last week, I helped to facilitate (note: not "teach") a great #eduwin that was celebrated more by my students than by me as an educator. After now weeks of working on our gangs awareness / My Bloody Life project, arrangements were finalized to Skype with Alex Kotlowitz, producer of The Interrupters (which airs on PBS tomorrow/Tuesday night).
The morning began as unique as the day unfolded. My five "moderators" were standing outside, in charge from the beginning. Two of them handed out note sheets, while the others picked 15 students to have question cue cards. Once the bell rang, we re-arranged some of the seats so that everyone could be seen, etc by Mr. Kotlowitz. The Skype call rang in. I introduced our guests, my moderators, etc, before handing the conversation over to my students. (Many of the "adults" stayed in toward the back of the room, actually, putting the kids at the forefront. Supportive figures included my building principal, assistant principal and many of my colleagues who had planning periods... thanks again for stopping by! Theresa Shafer (@TheresaShafer), New Tech Network's Online Community Manager, stayed close to the moderators to tweet all of the great Q&A).
Our students started with some polite banter / icebreakers. My students asked Mr. Kotlowitz about his impressions of the Superbowl ads and who he was cheering for. My kids got a kick out of the fact that he is human and roots for the Giants, yet they were impressed when he took a stance against the idea of commercials in general.
Once the questions started rolling, the great answers began reinforcing some of the themes of not just our project but also of our school culture/vision. Here's a bit of a breakdown question-by-question:
-Without having seen The Interrupters yet, one of the first questions to Kotlowitz was about the documentary's impact on the filmmakers and on the CeaseFire workers themselves. I saw some students "awakened" when Mr. Kotlowitz said this film was his first time collaborating. As a writer/journalist, he rarely produced work with others before producing the film. Being my students' first year in a New Tech school, many of my students were nodding in agreement with how beneficial collaboration was to them, too. This expert was giving a nod to what we preach every day: collaboration is the way of the workplace and of the world now that we are an interconnected (technologically, socially, culturally, etc) global community. As for the subjects in the documentary, Kotlowitz has said that some of them found the film therapeutic, because they were able to tell their story, process some of the things they had done (all of the Interrupters have done time), and show how dedicated they are to making better, less violent communities.
-Kotlowitz spoke on how violence is now initiated over more "petty" circumstances. Here, I saw eyes darting back and forth. Sophomores have some growing up to do, and we hear that word used all the time in our classes, actually. Here, whispers and heads shook in disappointment when Kotlowitz said murder/homicide rates have halved over the years, but they are over much more petty disagreements. Violence used to be so tied to the drug trade, but reports now show most violence starts over looks at girls/guys, unwelcome guests at parties, stepping on someone's shoe, etc
- Kotlowitz mentioned he had done a screening of the film at the Danville prison. I know caught the interest of some who live close to that area of the city or who go by there. While so far away, we were still making connections to each other's communities.
My moderators stepped more and more up to the plate as the interview progressed. When we had mic issues, they politely asked for a moment from Mr. Kotlowitz and set a norm of coming up to the center of the room. (I was actually surprised at how timid some were in front of him. Many of my biggest voices asked their assigned questions with as little as a peep... there was definitely a sense of importance in the room.)
Final papers were due yesterday (which I expect will use the interview as a source), but there are already signs that this Skype interview had impact. When I created a Google Doc to collect thank-you notes and reflections, I found that many of my students were starting to "get" New Tech. (More on that later.)
Thanks to the power of social media (which set up this interview in the first place!), various great reads have popped up. I've collected many of them in my Diigo bookmarks with "interrupters" as the tag. I have to thank Alex Kotlowitz, the Interrupters social media team (@TheInterrupters), Kartemquin Films (@Kartemquin), and New Tech Network's Theresa Shafter (@newtechnetwork & @TheresaShafer) for much of this great experience, among others whom I've mentioned before.
A couple months ago, I was really looking forward to the Midwest Meeting of the Minds where I would get to meet other teachers in my region to see what they were up to and how they were dealing with some of their classroom struggles. I got a lot of valuable advice (even some that deviated away from the model) that helped me regain some traction on learning. I finally let myself shove some direct instruction back in and felt that I could cover some of the content requirements not yet met by the projects we had done.
Tonight, I wasn't planning on it, but I attended my first #PBLChat, hosted by the New Tech Network. Trying hard to continue to grade essays, I was also trying to keep up with the stream of suggestions popping up about how to brainstorm or where to find the seeds that turn into good projects. There's a blessing and a curse in this juxtaposition. On the right-hand side of my couch, I have a dismal percentage of essays actually turned in this week (after we've been writing them for a month). On the other, I see the excitement I should be feeling for moving on and having a blank canvas come semester two. I know that I'm finding ideas in the right places (TED, Wired... even textbooks), thanks to the ditto-ing of my contributions to the discussion. But I also am heavily marking up work that should have been improved now three times before getting to the final grading pen. Everyone who followed the scaffolding seems to have much improved, however. I've got some samples from students who are finally buying into the model and finding their own self-guided, peer-supported successes, however -- just one at a time per project.
After tonight, I know that I want to put students more in charge of their projects. I wrote before about hearing November is always a battle. Well, that went by pretty quickly. Hopefully break doesn't, because I need that to get some of these great, peer-tested or -brainstormed ideas into more concrete frameworks to see where they'll fit for my own uses.
I was able to tour a project-based learning school last week, and I was tremendously impressed by my student tourguide as well as the students I spoke to. They communicated freely with me (an adult and a stranger tot he school) about their learning in a reflective manner. Most of what I was seeing was what I know many evaluation systems are expecting more of as they change their teacher evaluation programs. These students impressed me further with the way they described the PBL format, talking like adults when they opened up about their "work versus personal" friends, their firing/resignation processes, and (I kid you not) their love of their "self-directed learning". Holy communicators, Batman! Given the right tools and routes, they knew they could find the answer in the room by delegating tasks, tapping into each other's expertises or leveraging their independent search skills.
I was impressed, but also knew that there are reasons behind this learning and it mostly has to do with the exploration process opened up to them through choice, which will bring me to Choices! pt2 where I'll be reflecting on choices I gave in my classroom recently and how they are / aren't paying off...