Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Solo Week

When classes start up again after vacation, I'm going to embark on my first solo week.

The University requires that I teach, all by my lonesome, for two weeks during the internship. Those weeks can happen pretty much any time and in any configuration the intern and CT chooses - Monday to Friday, say, or Wednesday to Tuesday. An intern can do both weeks together if he or she wishes, or split them up over the span of the internship. I'm going to start mine of Monday.

I spent some time this afternoon with CT at her place. We talked about my solo week and about what I should do with the various classes. We decided quite some time ago that we would co-teach the Advanced Placement (AP) class, both because teachers get special training to teach AP and because there's one particular student who's been a thorn in CT's side and she doesn't want to give him any reason to go running to Mummy and Daddy whining about the poor quality of his education. She's giving me a lot of leeway in deciding what we do with the class that week, though, and I'm looking forward to some of the conversations I'm going to try to get started with those kids.

I'm going to have them do some writing about Bel Canto (which they're supposed to be reading over vacation) and we're going to read Hamlet cover to cover (they watched the Mel Gibson movie over the course of the last week or so). I want to see if I can get the kids to establish enough critical distance from the texts to be able to connect them in meaningful ways. It's kind of a stretch - or, at least, it will be for them - because the works aren't obviously related; there are quite a few common themes, but no common plot points. The point for the week's lessons will mostly revolve around active reading and meaning-making; something they should already be doing, not only as AP students but as juniors and seniors. Neither CT nor I are confident that they have quite reached the "active readers" stage yet, though. The whole point of all this literature stuff, in my view, is to give us experiences through which we interpret the world around us. I want to see if I can get the kids beyond just dragging their eyes over the words on the page to really USING the experience of reading as a means of understanding themselves and their lives.

(proofreading that last paragraph has me thinking “what the HELL am I thinking?!?” Wish me luck, wouldja?)

The Freshmen 200's are going to get more of what they were working on before vacation. The period 2 kids will continue working on the literature and poetry of the Holocaust. I'm really interested in opening up a conversation about the concepts of justice and forgiveness with them; I felt like the AP kids didn't really attend to the idea fully when we tried to engage them in that same discussion a few weeks ago. I've got a bunch of material in mind to move the class along; song lyrics from Patty Griffin, writing prompts about slavery and internment camps and the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. government - I might have them watch a West Wing episode where Josh gets into it with a Justice Department appointee about slave reparations. We'll probably spend most of the block day watching Nuremberg (which I'm looking forward to, never having seen it myself) and writing about the really big questions that Holocaust literature presents.

The period 4 kids will finish watching Romeo and Juliet, then we'll work on some sonnets. I'm not sure how much I really want to drill the mechanics of the form into them (*I* still have to look up the poetic rules for sonnets - I can't expect them to memorize them if it hasn't been important enough to ME to commit to memory, now, can I?). I really just want them to read them, to speak them, to let the language work through their brains so that they can make sense of a few of them.

Then - and this is the part I'm REALLY looking forward to - we're going to (TRY to) discuss the ineffable; that part of poetry and drama and literature that speaks to us in ways that we can't adequately describe. How does a piece of writing, or an actor's performance, communicate more than just what's on the page or script? I want them to think about times when they've been stricken by something outside of themselves - a poem, a song, a performance in a play or movie; hell, I'll even take a play in a football game - that's transcended language. How do we experience those moments? How do we communicate them to others so we can share them? Does the act of putting such moments into words somehow diminish the experience? I'm not sure I can pull it off, but I'm SO excited to see what freshmen come up with anyway.

The period 5 kids - the 400 levels - are going to do some writing. CT asked one of the students in that class, just before vacation, what kind of writing she likes to do. She said that the class really enjoys writing prompts that are personal, so I'm going to compose five day's worth of "tell me about you and what's important to you" prompts. Then, we're going to work with Frankenstein.

I'm pretty sure that the novel is too much for these kids. It's nothing like the Bella Lugosi movies they may or may not have seen, and Shelley's language is dense and formal and I doubt these particular students would have any patience for it at all, so we're going to watch a movie. I may photocopy a couple of passages from the book, but most of their comprehension of the work will come from the film, and I’m more than okay with that.

I bought this DVD - which I'd never seen before - from the bargain bin of my video store a couple of summers ago. I'm not usually in the habit of buying movies without having seen them, but I'm SO glad I bought this one. It's a Hallmark version - made for t.v. - is very faithful to Shelley's story and the production is, in my humble opinion, excellent. The story is really about acceptance and rejection and finding an identity - all themes with which nearly every teenager can identify, and I'm hoping that they'll at least consider attending to some of the material as a group. We'll do some writing around the theme, and I may ask them to put together an "identity" project that will ask them to really consider who they are and what's important to them and, more importantly, why. I'm not sure I can pull THIS off, either, but I'm willing to give it a good try.

So, I'm not sure how much writing I'm going to be doing during my solo week. I'm hoping to be able to keep pace with the work - actually, I’m hoping to make the KIDS do most of the heavy lifting - but I may find that my evening writing time is taken up with other tasks. Regardless, I'll post an update when it's all finished. Keep checking in...


Blogger Kizz said...

I LOVE BEL CANTO! Everyone should read it.

Young Frankenstein, the Mel Brooks movie, is really very faithful to Shelley's story and extremely engaging. That's what Whipple used to show us when we read the book. Will your personal writing prompts be linked to identity and image and body image and finding someone who matches you?

I will now spend the day blowing off work while I try to find commonalities between Bel Canto and Hamlet.

March 01, 2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I understand that one of the more recent Frankenstein movies is excellent, and very much in keeping with the themes and story line of the book.

I too remember when we had to read it in high school (I really loved it BTW). And I too remember Whipple having us watch “Young Frankenstein” (the Mel Brooks film with Gene Wilder, Terry Garr, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle). It was hilarious (still one of my all-time favorite movies), but I remember his justification most of all. He said it was the only one of the Frankenstein movies to date that portrayed the “monster” as someone struggling with his humanity.

To this day, the themes of “Frankenstein” by Shelley have stuck in my head because of this unorthodox connection.

You have quite a week in front of you, but it sounds like a wonderful challenge.

March 02, 2006 8:51 AM  
Anonymous claudia said...

I have the Young Frankenstein movie,if you're interested. A classic,right along with Princess Bride!!!!

March 02, 2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

I have both Young Frankestein AND The Princess Bride on DVD already - they were some of the originals of my collection. I'm hoping to add Blazing Saddles sometime in the not-too-distand future, though I don't know what educational purpose I can set that movie to...

It's amazing how much of my mental energy is taken up with thinking about next week. I don't think I'm nervous, per se, but I am wondering how well I'll be able to keep momentum and flow going as the week progresses....

March 02, 2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger vanx said...

All I can say is, ...do they take kids from New Jersey at your school? This all sounds great. If anything like it is happening at James Caldwell High School, my daughter isn't letting on.
I love Frankenstein, by the way. I haven't read it in years. It's on that stack I never get too--unless I'm prompted to do so!

March 14, 2006 12:40 PM  

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