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Archive for September, 2007

One Direction

The Kingdom‘s opening credits are just oh-man jaw-droppingly forehead-smackingly good.The movie itself is a racist little turd, however.

We’re talking a four-minute blend of motion graphics and archival footage so fine it’s tough to tell where one ends and the other begins. The mad geniuses at PIC Agency tossed ‘em both in a blender, hit purée, and the result is an even-handed, sober narration of Saudi Arabia’s entire existence.

As a kid born after the embargo, I never understood until now just how their interests and ours have competed on their soil and, as of 9/11/01, on ours like some fatal game of football. “A violent collision of tradition and modernity,” as the narration puts it.

And they’re online. And in high-def. If you teach history, I’d sock this one away for the appropriate unit.

Another Direction

So clearly the visuals here supplement the narration in a sum-greater-than-the-parts kinda way. This wouldn’t have been nearly the accomplishment with just visuals or just text.

But I think the success of this piece and others like it leads some teachers to the wrong conclusion, that multimedia is the magic element here. The mistake is to assume that using video clips or pictures or sound or some combination thereof or even some student buffet selection thereof is gonna improve learning.

It is, as with every media, a matter of editing. What you leave out matters more than what you leave in.

What no one teaches teachers to do, what teachers only teach themselves if they’re of the mind, is how to edit their material into stories, how to set-up antagonists and position their students as protagonists, how to modulate their voices, letting them bend a little with the direction of the stories, how to use volume like a scalpel, letting it drop a little before a conclusion and pick up as they move along, how to generate kinesthetic energy by moving around the classroom when the lesson’s pace slackens, when to signal that something big is coming up and when to let it kinda drop on them and settle on different students at different times.

Or how to do that in multimedia, surround sound stereo.

More than the media matters is the quality of the media. The edubloc is taking up the cause of multimedia but how many bloggers realize that their responsibility doesn’t end with putting a camera in a kid’s hands or a microphone in front of her face.

How many of them realize that there’s a right way to teach this stuff, or that their multimedia fixation is making video / audio / photo production teachers out of them all?

The Struggle

In a recent comment, I asserted that a lot of stuff that matters to classroom teachers nowadays (and to me when I first started) doesn’t really matter. I asked a bunch of rhetorical questions, one of which Sarah picked up, mentioning that her school has Seven Universal Rules, one of which is no gum:

So at this point, when someone comes in chewing, I say, “Go ahead and spit it out.” If I notice it in class, I bring the trashcan around. I’m trying not to make it a big deal. But at the same time, what do I do with the rules forced on me?

Postponing any answer for a second, your last paragraph is great. “Go ahead and spit it out.” Nothing snide or demeaning. It’s pretty much 100% about attitude/tone in these situations and not about what is said.

Guaranteed: there is at least one teacher at your school — probably someone on the Seven Universal Rules committee — who takes those rules and wraps herself up in them.

  1. They give her leverage with her students when she couldn’t buy any by being fun, interesting, or clear.
  2. They give her a sense of self-definition when she couldn’t define herself by being fun, interesting, or clear.
  3. They give her a simple goal to work towards (the consistent enforcement of all seven) when she couldn’t grapple with more worthy, but complicated, ones like becoming fun, interesting, and clear.

There are a lot of smart folks on this here blogowhatever who would suggest in error that she craves power and control over her students. These people miss the greater point that she is scared. She craves freedom from fear. Power is merely her means. The eradication of fear is her end. Dismissing her as power-hungry offers no rehabilitative recourse except to take away her power.

Those are the teachers that every student dislikes except those who are similarly afraid. Power cures the teacher’s fear. That teacher’s structure cures the student’s.

The other students — those more psychologically put-together than their harried teacher — get a boring instructor who is professionally miserable (even if she wouldn’t self-report that misery) who has made a list of her seven largest anger buttons obvious and public.

My word. The fun those students will have at her expense.

You wanna see that teacher? One of her students took video of her awhile back. That sequence three minutes in which a student takes her box of Kleenex and she goes after it? The metaphorical significance of that box (which, to her, doesn’t just contain Kleenex) is unmistakable. Her student knows it and goes after it.

But if you aren’t afraid of your students then you’re in the best possible place.

You can enforce rules with calm detachment ’cause there’s no you in the disciplinary equation, only us and how much we can learn in a two-hour block.

You can also turn a blind eye to infractions ’cause that student surreptitiously chewing gum in the back doesn’t scare you. She isn’t chewing gum to piss you off, which is kinda the default assumption of the scared teacher.

Then two weeks before your evaluation you tell your students that we are getting absolutely crazy about these rules. You start writing standards on the board. You get heavyhanded with cell phones. You start caring about food, drink, and gum. You get a little meaner.

Then the day after your evaluation you get back to teaching.

Say Hello Outside

Back in my back to school post, I left a footnote that should’ve started a fire:

90% of my classroom management takes place outside my classroom, seven minutes before class starts.

I thought for sure those who knew what I was talking about would’ve chimed in huge and those who didn’t get how class management could hinge so tightly on seven minutes outside and before class would’ve raised a hand. Neither group did so I’m forced here to call my own bluff. Thanks a lot, people.

Now see here: unless I’m swapping rooms and stuck scribbling an opener on the board during passing period, greeting students at the door is now my default and primary classroom management technique.

Not just because …

  1. it kicks tardiness in the head. (Kids get to class quickly ’cause only in those seven minutes do they have anything close to autonomous control over their classroom. During those seven minutes they don’t have to censor themselves, their speech, or their behavior in the same way they do once I walk inside and get it going.)
  2. it lets me differentiate my relationship with each kid. (I’m not sure which is harder. Differentiated instruction or differentiated relationships.

    I pointedly ignore the too-cool-for-school crowd until they’re right at the door, at which point I issue an unhurried, hey, what’s up?

    However, the sort of kid who adores her teacher, learning, and school, craves affirmation. I see her coming from a distance, smile, say, hey, how are things? how was lunch?Anyone horrified by such a calculated rationing of affection is urged to speak up. This technique (commonly called “personality mirroring,” I think) has had a profound effect on my teaching. The cool kids who want a cool teacher think I’m cool. The nice kids who want a nice teacher think I’m nice. In fact, I’m neither but that’s why they call this a “job.”)

  3. it starts class on a casual, informal note (letting them know I’m not just about the backbreaking, start-to-finish labor).

rather because …

  1. when we’re the middle of a disciplinary situation, the knowledge that tomorrow I’ve gotta look you in the eye and exchange pleasantries forces me to take my finger off the trigger.

Way off the trigger.

Knowing I’ll say hello to you tomorrow means I’ve gotta find a solution that dignifies both of us.

You get in the pattern of addressing the students in your plus-sized class socially as a group (“hey, guys, really good to see you today, hope lunch treated you well”) you can go days without interacting socially with individuals. Then, suddenly, you’re mixing it up in a disciplinary situation with nothing friendly to fall back on.

I’ve got three high-impact classes this year. Zero referrals, zero after-school detentions, zero disciplinary phone calls home.

We didn’t do a syllabus. We didn’t talk about rules.

I just say hello outside.

Show and Tell: Day 13

Process Enacted. Not my strongest show-and-tell showing. An awesome bit of stop-motion but the pseudo-intellectualism of the title annoys me every time I show it. ¶ (Geddit?! The dude has ENACTED the PROCESS of making the movie.) ¶ Still, the movie guarantees a remark (“… that guy has too much free time …”) against which I will defend his pseudo-intellectual ass every day of the week. ¶ “We all have 24 hours, right? Am I missing something here? Or should we only judge people on the product of their hours? So what’s your product? What do you have?” ¶ Maybe I take it a little personally.

How To Gripe About “Kids These Days”

A (very) miscellaneous link for the older set who find themselves repeated flummoxed by their students’ fashion and navel-gazing sensibilities. This is how you write about it. ¶ “… sometimes style feels less like a fun, personal expression and more like a total disregard for people who might weigh more than you, or have less money for cell phone technology than you, or might be more than five years older than you.” ¶ P.S. “hip-hop butterflies” is a perfect description of this.

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