Monday, November 23, 2015

A Monster Calls

This past school year, I wanted to try to pick some books for Read Alouds that were unusual and fit me and the kids. I was a little frustrated this year, because it's hard to do a Read Aloud EVERY DAY! I mean, there just isn't the time to get everything done. So while I was looking for books to start the year off with, I stumbled upon a unique find: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

What I first noticed was the cover and how it felt intriguing. I wanted to know more about what I was seeing. Then I read the back and it was about a boy who was dealing with his mother's battle with cancer. Talking about hitting me right in the kissah! It felt like something I could connect to. Something timely and intimate for me.

Finally, I looked at the chapters and they were all nicely portioned into manageable sections. So each chapter was the perfect length for a Read Aloud. Add in the gorgeous illustrations that I could put on the SMARTBoard from my Kindle copy of the book and we're in business.

It was the best book I could have selected to really get my kids into what we were doing. We were all so into it and looked forward to reading the chapter each day. I did the monster voice and the Kindergarten Walk when there were pictures to show that didn't show up on the Kindle book. When the book ended, my students were so frantic and full of thoughts and energy, we spent the class period reflecting and having group discussions. It was amazing!

One of my substitutes, who deviates from the lesson plan, looked up the book and noticed it was going to be turned into a movie. Well, the kids were so excited about it. So when my husband linked me the teaser trailer, I KNEW I had to make a lesson out of it. And here we are, the three rough days before Thanksgiving, indulging in critical analysis and reflection of a teaser trailer for a book we spent two months reading!

First I asked my students "If you were to make a trailer for A Monster Calls, what would you make sure was in it to lure the viewer to watch your movie?"  They made a list, making sure not to include any spoilers, but to make it engaging enough.

Then we watched the Trailer (twice, for good measure).

After that the students wrote about how they felt about the trailer (and why), what they were disappointed they didn't get to see (and why), and what they would have added to the trailer (and why). I tell you what, these kids need to be contacted by Hollywood, because some of them even created their own trailer and how it should be laid out. AMAZING!

Now, this was just a teaser, but the kids came up with so many wonderful ideas. Some of the kids were disappointed the trailer did not hint at 12:07 or that his mother had cancer. One of the students even brought up that the trailer made it seem like he was some sort of loner kid and was dealing with friendship issues. They also wanted the trailer to mention the stories or the tales that would be told and they were, all, upset that they didn't get to see the whole monster. Granted, they understood why they weren't going to see the monster.

I was shocked at the level of disappointment, but at the same time, they had such lofty ideas of what they wanted from the trailer. SO! Since it was a teaser, I told them that when the official trailer came out (probably during a holiday movie), we'd review our writing on this and watch that one, too, and discuss it. I'm all about visual literacy and helping the kids to apply their thinking and think deeper.

Loving the passion my classes have developed for Literacy of all sorts and that I'm helping to inspire them. It's been absolutely amazing! They were even planning on having a viewing party next year for the movie. Can't not be excited about that. So we'll see where things lead us.

If you haven't had a chance to read this book, I highly recommend it, because the book itself is absolutely amazing. My kids are concerned that the movie won't be as amazing as the book, but I think that's slightly unfair. I already am excited to see where they go with it.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

#ALLMYMOVIES - A Social Experiment

I teach sixth grade Literacy. I try to teach my kids to apply what they learn in Literacy class to real world situations and events. This year we have been learning Kylene Beers Notice & Note Signposts to apply to their fiction reading in an attempt to encourage deeper thinking about what they are reading. When notice one of the signposts, they need to stop and take note of it. Then they need to ask themselves a deeper question to get at the heart of what the author wants you to understand.

As I started to teach these signposts, I started to notice myself asking signpost questions in my everyday life. I would then use these real life examples in class to encourage my kids to take their thinking outside of the classroom and into their own lives. But last night, I had an Aha! Moment for a real life application to the signpost Again and Again.

When you're reading a book and something is happening again and again or a word is being used or a situation keeps being mentioned. . . whatever it is. . . if its coming up again and again, you need to notice it, stop, and take note. Then you are to think how could this help you understand the story deeper. Will it help you to understand the theme and conflict of the story? Can is help define a character in a deeper way? Does it provide a sense of foreshadowing to the story? My students were having trouble going deeper with this signpost.

While I was surfing the net after a long day shaping young minds, I stumbled upon Shia LaBeouf's #ALLMYMOVIES art instillation in NYC. He had rented out a theater and was watching all of his movies in reverse chronological order. While he did this, he was live streaming his viewing. 3 days he would sit in the theater and watch his entire body of work. It was free for people to come in and watch the movies with him, but he had taken an artistic vow of "silence" from people, but did still interact in some capacity. The essence of this is that we are watching him, watching himself.

As I sat there, watching the live stream, I thought to myself, "What message is he trying to send with this?" I was watching someone watching their own movies. Again and again, he would sit there as a new movie rolled out and the live stream would continue to stream. It felt very voyeuristic I thought about it for a while, but then went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up and found myself checking the stream to see if he was still watching. I don't know what compelled me to do it, but I did. Then it was off to work and while I was prepping my lesson for the morning, I had a stroke of genius: My students could try to figure out the meaning behind him doing this activity again and again.

I would introduce to my student Shia LaBeouf and his previous artistic endeavors, as well as the movies he's known for. Then I would explain the experiment. I would pose to them the question, "What is the theme (the message or lesson to be learned) in this artistic endeavor?"

Because, the point of art is to evoke a response, an emotion, or just a deeper level of reflection in our own lives, I wanted them to write a reflection on being part of this. So when I introduced this to my students, they all laughed and acted baffled and scoffed, but once it was on the screen, they were completely taken in by it. I explained that they were also taking part in the artistic act and have become part of the art that is being created. I took back-of-the-classroom-photographs to further validate the art.

Once they had watched for a little bit, I encouraged them to start recording how they felt and their feelings and what they think the point of all of this might be. Some of the students went deep and thought about the deeper implications of something like this, while others made it through the first step of why would this actor be watching himself, but couldn't make it to the next step of "what does us watching him have to do with it?"

They came up with some great observations and potential guesses for why he was doing this.

1. Shia LaBeouf is doing this because he wants to see if people still like him. He is looking at tweets on the internet and streaming stats later, as well as seeing, in person, the amount of people who come out to watch his work. He just wants to feel famous. 
2. Shia LaBeouf is doing this because he is reflecting on his own body of work so that he can be a better actor. 
3. Shia LaBeouf is doing this because he wants to encourage people to reach for their dreams, just like he did as a child actor. We're watching him experience the joy of reaching for his own dreams. 
4. Shia LaBeouf is doing this because he wants us to reflect on how we treat celebrities and celebrities are just normal people like everyone else. He's also putting himself in the shoes of a normal person, by watching his own movies. 
5. Shia LaBeouf wants attention because he wants all the people there to give him attention and he just wants attention from people on the internet and twitter and Facebook. 
6. Shia LaBeouf is doing this because he wants to be a better actor and reflect on the things he likes about his acting and the things that are bad so he doesn't do them again. He let other people in so that he can see what they think is funny or good or bad, too. 
7. I think this guy is crazy and too into himself. 
8. Shia LaBeouf is doing this because he wants us to think about our own obsession with looking at ourselves through pictures and images and he wants to record the good and the bad of the experience. 
9. This guy just wants us to think about our obsession with watching people on TV, especially in reality shows. He did this to try to stop reality shows from being mad, because it is wrong to spy on people. 
10. He wants people to confront their own craziness by watching his craziness. 
11. To give other people to chance to try to be crazy on camera, like that girl with the green hair who put the picture on his seat or the guy who you said was sitting behind him last night and is now sitting next to him all day.

These kids are 11 and 12-years old. Some of the thinking that came out of this was powerful and others were a bit more blase. It was such a moving activity and the kids just couldn't stop talking about it. They even realized how hard it was to not keep watching, like they were going to miss something important. I joked with one class that he is looking back at you. That really creeped them out.

The strange part was, they were unable to put into words why they kept wanting to watch. I asked a few of them and they were incapable of figuring out their own reason for watching this. Some of them said they felt a little inspired or they were thinking of how they viewed celebrities. Others said they weren't going to post pictures online anymore or they were going to stop watching reality shows, because this realized to them how creepy and stalker-like the activity was.

In the end, the lesson was a hit. The kids were engaged. The idea of going deeper was applied to real world situations. They will not forget thinking about the world around them as having meaning and having value beyond the surface. Will they apply that always? Probably not, but this art instillation or social experiment or reflective moment was powerful and its taking moments like this and sharing them with students that helps to make a more informed and powerful world.

On the flipside, my co-workers through it was crazy insane and just, overall, weird, that I would have used this. It was immediate. It was involving them in real time in something that was going on. Powerful beyond words.

This opportunity was magical and I am so glad I was able to participate and allow these discussions to take place. So proud of my students.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The C-Word

I'm sure you came up with what you thought the C-Word was before you started reading, but it really could only be one or two things. . .  that one thing or Cancer.

For the purpose of this entry, C-Word is the latter. On August 24 I received a phone call from my mom that she has ovarian cancer. That is where I've been and what I've been dealing with, coupled with school starting, my daughter starting Kindergarten, and just life in general.

Right now I'm not going to go into all the details of the emotional, psychological, or even physical challenges all this is handing out to those involved, but I will share some brief snippets.

I've been driving two hours there and two hours back to help my mom. Spending chunks of weekends and then some at her house. Spending hours on the phone talking to family and friends.

My mom had her diagnosis, then found a better doctor. Then had surgery and had all the junk removed. Now is facing 6 months of chemo, which she has finally accepted as an option. Then the process of preparing for the horror that is chemo and the hair loss and the physical illness.

Coupled with all that is this just insane attempt to blend medical and non-medical healing stuff. It's a smidge too insane for my liking, because it's just too many people with too much information overwhelming you with information that isn't always from the most relevant of sources. Being on the internet does not mean it is credible. I feel like giving these people the guidelines for checking source credibility (I teach it to my sixth graders).

I think, sometimes, people forget about the family. So. . . a lot of the people who I interact with when I go down to be with my mom seem to forget that I am also in a place of processing all of the things and all of the information. And while my mom only has to deal with her life decisions and work through her own inner turmoil and a little bit of work and a few bills and things, I've got an intense job that I can't JUST take off from, a family with a 5yo who JUST started Kindergarten and is having a hard time (well... sort of... it's a teacher thing), and a bunch of commitments that I have to take care of. I have to check again, but I had 19 sick days (2 of which were personal days) and that's all I get for my own health and for taking care of my family's health and my mom THROUGH JUNE! I can't blow all my days right up front here. Even taking all those days really has an influence on my students and the teaching and learning that is occurring in the classroom.

Add to that having to still prepare lesson plans even more than I would have if I were teaching, because I have to EXPLAIN everything for the sub. I still have to deal with all the stuff that didn't go as planned and score all the busywork and assignments I have the sub do, since most subs can't do the level of intense writing lessons that need to be taught. It is just so frickin' crazy how stressful this all is.

Yet. . . there's my mom. Things are quieting down now a little bit. There are finally routines being formed, but it's hard. Her hair is falling out and if you know my mom, you know the hair thing is probably the biggest deal in the whole world. She's had a rough road so far with her first chemo being the worst experience ever (no, seriously... there were problems.......) and now getting to a point where she feels she can actually carry on with a normal day.

We're making it through. I can't explain all the subconscious energy it is taking to handle life in general. I mean, I've got my own demons plaguing me and making things even harder than they really should be.  Demons that are causing me to pull away and isolate myself more than I should, but I don't really know what else to do right now. I've given up everything I've been a part of, except for my Tabletop Game Club at school, because I feel like the world is this million ton weight on my shoulders. I even passed bill-pays onto my husband, which is something I always did for my own sanity.

The biggest problem for me is that I can't seem to get a handle on my life. I found comfort in having a calendar and being able to plan and look ahead and mark things down and now I feel like nothing is planable. Which makes it even more difficult, because I now don't want to plan anything with anyone. It's really hard. With the holidays coming, I REALLY want to make plans and make commitments, but I can't. I miss my world right now, but then.  . it's really that I gave it all up to make sure that my mother, my daughter's grandmother, stays around.

I push forward every day now. I wish I had a cheerleader like my mom has me to cheerlead her. I know that's now really possible, because there's no reason for anyone to help lift up the burden of my own emotional baggage, but at least my mom does and that's what's important right now. I'm giving up myself to give back to her.

So in the end, I just want to say "screw you cancer." And if, in my lifetime, I find out that there is some sort of conspiracy with pharmaceutical companies and the government and all that crap. . . know that there will be hell to pay for the pain that was brought down on my family with my grandfather, my grandmother, my uncle, cousins, and countless friends.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween 2015

It was a simple Halloween. One devoid of my usual decorating prowess. I was at least able to get a costume made and I had one of my geeky-bucket-list moments!

I slaved an entire evening away making a hobbit costume that I could wear to school the next day. It made me so happy to be a hobbit, because in my soul I an totally a hobbit. I bought reusable items and only a sheet of fleece cloth for the cloak. I made a leaf button from scratch and used my husband's letter dice ring as my One Ring. I was pretty frickin' happy.

My daughter, lived her dream of being a T-Rex (the dog is a Raptor and it didn't last long).

Oh the dreams that were made this Halloween!

So Happy Halloween and here's to 2016!