Archive for November, 2012

Facebook Makes Us Stupider!

Yup, it’s a fact. Or at least it’s what researchers from the Pew Internet & American Life Project are saying. Students who can’t resist checking their Facebook page while studying have lower GPAs. It seems digital technology is so distracting, today’s students are simply unable to study effectively.

I have no doubt technology is a distraction, but I also have no doubt it can be used to empower students in ways we never before dreamed of. This weekend, for example, a trio of former students popped into my classroom for a visit. Fully-plugged-in middle schoolers, one of them pulled out a cellphone and said, “Check out this movie we made!” I then spent the next fifteen minutes watching a mini crime drama unfold on the tiny screen. Of their own volition these kids has gone out and produced a short film using nothing more than their brains and a cellphone. Sure, it was kid level stuff, but there was no shortage of quality film-making technique. They shot their scenes from different angles, effectively used flashbacks and close-ups, and kept their dialogue and action focused on the film’s objective. I enjoyed it immensely, but what strikes me most is that they pursued this endeavor all on their own, merely because they had the technology to do so.

While technology may indeed get in the way of kids studying the three R’s, it can also be used to help them embrace them. I’m not a true techie, but I’ve embraced technology because it provides good teaching tools that engage learners. In my classroom kids use Twitter to post their learning objectives, cellphones to time themselves when practicing their math facts, webpages to build their portfolios, and Youtube to post their performances. Our classroom webpage, The Daily Platypus, also gives them access to homework sheets they may have forgotten at school, extra credit work, and opportunities to read and respond to instructionally-related questions, videos, and posts. Instead of being a distraction, these technologies are proving to be conducive to learning. The read aloud play scripts I write and teach with are powerful in themselves, but they take on a whole new dimension when coupled with technology.

Of course, this still doesn’t mean my students aren’t going to blow off their homework once in awhile and instead spend the evening chatting on Faceboook…or watching television…or going to football practice…or shooting mini-crime dramas on their cellphones. “Technology is not going to disappear from our world,” says journalist Larry Rosen, whose syndicated article covers the Pew Report. “…in fact, it is only going to get more appealing as screens become sharper, video becomes clearer, and touch screens become the norm, all of which attract our sensory system and beckon us to pay attention to them rather than schoolwork or the people in front of us.”

The challenge for teachers will be in figuring out how to take advantage. Visit The Daily Platypus to see some of the ways we’re utilizing technology to enhance learning, and if you haven’t tried recording a play, either as a podcast or Youtube video, I’d encourage it.

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Plays Meet 47 Common Core Standards!

Common Core logoAdmit it. You’re using one of those big fat textbooks to teach reading, one of those monstrosities brought to you by publishers determined to make sure its refrigerator-box full of materials met every standard ever concocted in Texas, California, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Protectorates, and Saturn’s Ring. Too bad the kids are yawning.

If you’re like most people, the new Common Core Standards might have you a bit flustered. You can rely on those textbooks, which will provide certain coverage of the standards but will drive your students back to their video games, or you can delve into literature, classroom magazines, and reader’s theater, which will require more documentation on your part but will more likely create lifelong readers. The truth is, using what administrators like to call “supplementary material” is more engaging to students, more enjoyable to teach, and not so hard to justify against the CCSs. Consider this: “drama” is mentioned nearly fifty times in the Standards! That being the case, reader’s theater is more relevant than ever.

Here are just a few examples from the Reading Standards for Literature (RL) where drama or an element of drama is explicitly referenced:

RL4.5Explain major differences between poems, dramas, and prose….
RL5.4Explain how a series of chapters, scenes or stanzas fits together….
RL5.6Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.
RL6.3Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes….
RL7.3Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact.

And don’t assume that using drama is only useful in teaching drama. One user of my play adaption of the classic short story, The Monkey’s Paw, commented how reading the play helped her students comprehend the original text. Because plays have to break stories down to their essence, using adaptions of classic stories is likely to help students meet the RL standards for any number of otherwise challenging texts at the high end of the “complexity band” (RL4-8.10)

But plays also help students meet standards in Reading Fluency. Consider RF 4.4cUse context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding…. Because drama puts the reader in the moment, and because the playwright cannot waste words within a 20 minutes classroom script, students are more able to make immediate contextual connections. In fact, drama is ideal for improving reading fluency in general. Because it mimics the repetition beginning readers use when first learning to read, it actually forms new neural pathways. (Check out the brain research by Vgotsky and others, or for a shortcut, read my article “Why Use Drama.”)

Recently, a former student of mine provided a powerful endorsement of using drama to teach literature. I hadn’t seen this young man for over four years, but he told me he’d just been thinking of me the day before. He’d been sitting in his 8th grade English class yawning over yet another mundane text book assignment when his mind drifted back to my then-third grade classroom. “I was just thinking about hopping around our classroom stage when we did that Aesop’s Fables play,” he said. “I enjoyed that.” That seems pretty telling to me.

Ready to set aside that textbook for a while and give drama a try? You can find a wide variety of read-aloud plays at my TeachersPayTeachers store. Try my Ebenezer Scrooge play (available only for the holidays), Peter Rabbit (excellent for intermediate kids to present to youngers), or Box Brown’s Freedom Crate (kids love experimenting with a southern dialect). You’ll also find numerous titles appropriate for Black History Month, which is right around the corner. Nearly all my plays have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazine’s such as Storyworks and Junior Scholastic, so you can rest assured that they meet the highest standards. Not sure how to make it all work? Click here. For samples of kids performing classroom plays click on the “podcasts” tab up top. And for still more validation of using drama to meet the CCSs, check out this article from the New York Times.

Happy directing!

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Missing Links and Dead Pages

Due to a hardware malfunction, we’re experiencing some tech issues. Instead of trying to negotiate around those dead links and missing pages, jump over to my other site, MackLewis.com. The information you need about The Checkbook Project, EZSubPlans, Read-Aloud Plays, and more is all right there. Thanks for your patience.

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Plays in Actions

Ever wonder what it looks like to see a fifth grade Cyclops chomp on his classmates? Probably not, but if you’d like to see some of Mack’s plays in action, just follow this link. Polyphemus eats a stage-full of Greeks in Odysseus vs Cyclops, Professor Aylmer removes the still-pulsing heart of his otherwise perfect bride in Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Birth-mark, and the corpse of Herbert White comes a-knockin’ in the classic gothic tale, The Monkey’s Paw. Whether you want staging ideas or an inducement to purchase, these videos may be just the thing. The links will take you to Mack’s public school site, The Daily Platypus. Although all three plays were crafted for Scholastic’s Scope magazine, which is aimed at middle-schoolers, they’re performed here by fifth graders around Halloween. And if these don’t do the trick, be sure to check out our bank of podcasts!

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