Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Toward the End...

...every little thing that gets accomplished feels like a major victory.

I spent this afternoon putting together the handout packets that I'm going to distribute to my colloquium attendees. I photocopied a bunch of things that *I* think are interesting (I'm assuming a lot here, I know). To get us started, I have a couple of quotes about the idea of "reading" visual media and a list of "essential questions" (that's a teacher-term that really just means the kinds of things we want kids to know when we're done teaching them).

Once we chit-chat a bit about the idea of movies as texts and what makes good use of film in an English class (I highly suspect that it's NOT showing a movie after reading the book that movie is based on, but that's just me), I'll show a film clip from Nuremberg and ask my participants to think about ways in which we might ask students to enter into that scene - how do we teach students to give language to dramatic silence? What's going on when there are meaningful glances or changes in a character's facial expression? We know something's happening - but what? I've also included in the packet an excerpt of Jackson's opening statement to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal as a means of connecting the visual to the written (see here for the text and here for an entry I wrote about it earlier).

Once that's done, I'm going to move on to a scene from Glory - the one in which Denzel Washington's character is flogged for desertion. It's a powerful scene absolutely chock full of implications about flogging and what it means to the black regiment, many of whom are former - or runaway - slaves. We watch as Broderick's character struggles with what he's professionally required to do, even though he's well aware of those implications and knows in his heart that it's a vile and particularly harsh punishment for this particular group. We watch Washington's character go from defiance to endurance to stoic desperation, his eyes never breaking with Broderick's despite the tears that fall silently down his cheeks. When we're finished watching the scene, I'm going to ask the participants to write for a bit about this piece. I'll offer any number of writing opportunities; they can write a personal reaction, they can write the scene as a moment in fiction, they can write an interior monologue for either of the characters, they can write a conversation between them. The point is to get them to experience the act of transforming a visual experience into written language and ask them to consider other ways in which we might invite students to do the same.

When that's done (we're running out of time here!) I'll show the scene from Schindler's List where Schindler goes to Auschwitz to rescue his women workers. As the guards try to cull out the children, Schindler grabs one of them by the wrist and proceeds to explain to the guard that the children are skilled munitions workers. Who else, he asks angrily as the child wimpers in fear, would be able to polish the inside of shell casings?

The children are returned to the group of women heading out of the camp (the only shipment of people to ever LEAVE Auschwitz, by the way) and the camera lingers for a moment on Liam Nieson's Schindler, who looks as though he might pass out at any moment. I've included that scene from Keneally's book in the packet, and plan to try to spark a discussion about how the different presentations convey the dramatic tension of that scene.

After that (if we haven't run out of time), I'll show the panel the Bak art and ask essentially the same questions I asked the class when we did this lesson. I have a VERY interesting conversation I'm hoping to spark with an image of the front gate of Auschwitz, which is a combination of image AND word (and some of the most crushing irony ever).

I really think it's going to be a great experience. I'm VERY excited about the topic; I think it's important and relavant and I really believe that my confidence in teaching film in the context of close critical "reading" makes me a more effective teacher - and my students more well-rounded learners and thinkers.

And my enthusiasm doesn't get 'em, I'm also planning to bring chocolate.


Blogger Wayfarer said...

Ooooo!! Chocolate! Can I come?

It sounds like you've got more than your share of ducks in a row. I'd be impressed, fer sure! Of course, I could be biased here, but I think not. ;]

An important point about the concept of essential questions that may not come up, but really goes to the core of what they represent. Essential questions are not, as such, supposed to outline the things we want students to KNOW. Rather, they are a way to outline what we want them to DO. They are an extension of a curriculum grounded in performance standards. Since the language used in standards can often be, shall we say, ponderous and dogmatic, rephrasing them as questions can take them from boring dicta to invitations to explore. A spoon full of sugar...

Essential questions really represent a creative approach to designing lessons, but they are also a pragmatic conceptual commitment that frames what the students will be able to explore in the time they have.

It's a little nit-picky, but there is a distinction between teaching, which represents passive learning on the part of your students, and exploration, which is active.

What do you want them to DO or SHOW as a result of this amazing experience you've prepared? if you really want to impress the people there, make it clear that you understand this question and have a good answer ready. They may not ask, but I would.

I'll be pulling for you!!

May 03, 2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger vanx said...

Good luck. This is a very thoughtful and, it seems to me, original approach to literature and film. The relationship between "the book and the movie" is a fascinating subjective/objective soup, which makes it so worth exploring.
I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on all this and chiming in with my well-railroaded two cents along the way. Excellent work!

May 03, 2006 11:38 PM  

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