Monday, April 24, 2006

Vacation Week

This is April vacation week at school, and I'm lucky enough that the school where I work and the school the girls attend have the same April vacation. This hasn't always been the case.

Anyway, we're starting the week off kind of slowly. I spent a good portion of Saturday afternoon printing out items for the portfolio that's due on the 11th of May, and I have to portion off at least one or two afternoons this week for work on the presentation I will deliver on the 4th.

The presentation centers around some observations I made in the classroom - and some thinking I've been doing for several years now - about the use of film in an English / language arts classroom. A lot of people - most students and some teachers included - think that popping a video in at the beginning of class is a way of killing time that is more entertainment than education. I have spent the last two months or so in the classroom, and several years in college, thinking about how to change that perception.

While it's true that most films shown in English classes are adaptations of novels that kids have read ("To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Of Mice and Men" are perennial favorites) there is, to my mind, no reason that a film can't serve as a stand-alone text in a classroom (see
"To Be or Not To Be" here). Certainly, there are a number of different "reading" techniques that must be employed when using visual media as a primary text, and student's must be particularly attentive to the mechanisms of critical analysis because so much more information can come out of a film (lighting, camera angles, music) that a student might get out of a book, but I'm not sure that showing an adaptation of a novel is the most effective use of class time, unless the class is focusing on artistic interpretation.

Over the course of the last two months, I've been working with the freshmen with the literature of the Holocaust. We've read Night and The Sunflower, along with various poems and the lyrics to Patty Griffin's "As Cold as it Gets." We also watched "Life is Beautiful," "Nuremberg" and portions of "Schindler's List." We've had amazing conversations about the concepts of discrimination, genocide and forgiveness. The students have written, eloquently and powerfully, about whether it was right for Albert Speer to get a lighter sentence than Herrman Goering, about the reasons why Dora chose to board the train to go to the concentration camp with her husband and son, and about the idea that one man can be seen as the rescuer of generations of people who might not have even existed had that one man chosen to look away and do nothing. I've already written about the almost unbelievable work the young people did when asked to investigate Samuel Bak's work. The students wrote and spoke about the experience of SEEING - about how different and, in some cases, more powerful the impact of the subject was because they were able to see it in front of them rather than having to imagine it in their own minds. While I am still intimately connected to reading, I realize there is no way we could have duplicated these experiences with books.

I think I have most of the material I need for the presentation, but I still have to make handouts and beg my husband to configure my computer to show film clips, thereby saving me the time and awkwardness of having to scroll through DVD menus. I plan to ask the people who attend the presentation to do some work that I typically ask my students to do, and I'm hoping to generate some thoughtful conversation about expanding the idea of what a "text" is.

I'll try to write here again at some point before it's all over, but it's going to be a really busy couple of weeks for me. I need to finish up the work for the presentation and portfolio this week, then I'm back in the classroom until I deliver my presentation on Thurday, then I have to spend the entirety of Friday the 5th in a conference where OTHER people deliver their presentations. I'm back in the classroom until the 11th, when my portfolio is due.

Then I'm DONE!


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