Archive for January, 2014

Are the Feds Coming After You?

Click here to go to Mack's TpT StoreI’ve heard horror stories. There’s one about a federal official who caught a band teacher photocopying sheet music. The school was fined $10,000 and the band director lost his job.  True story? I don’t know, but it’s evident from the FBI warning at the beginning of that Bill Nye video I show every year that copyright infringement is serious stuff.

This got personal for me when the criminal underworld started pirating my plays, apparently in an attempt to turn a fast buck (which is ironic, given that I have yet to make a fast buck from writing these things).  A thoughtful reader contacted me about it after discovering a site where my play, Stolen Childhoods, could be illegally downloaded.

I immediately went into sleuth mode, quickly tracking down the offending site, fully prepared to fire off a cease and desist e-mail or maybe even call the 1-800 number on that Bill Nye video.  I quickly discerned, though, that the “criminal” was merely a middle school language arts teacher who’d posted my play online for her students to read as a homework assignment. Seemed innocent enough to me.  Here was a hard-working middle school teacher using my work as the centerpiece of what looked like a pretty significant unit of study about child labor during the Great Depression.  I was flattered. And yet, this did indeed represent a copyright infringement.

I’m a great fan of technology. I use it extensively with my own students, and I want to encourage others to do the same. But I suspect we could all use a little tutoring when it comes to copyright infringement.  If you want to post one of my plays on your classroom website, go for it. However, please toss in a few safeguards. Consider password protecting your site, adding a watermark to the posted-PDF, and at the very least, including a highly-visible warning that ONLY your students have legal authorization to download (maybe one showing a big badge like they have on the FBI warning!).

Another reader recently asked me if I’d develop a play based on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s THE Great American Novel as well as a significant player in the high school literary canon. Frankly, I’d love to craft a play around it.

But I can’t. It would be an infringement. Because To Kill a Mockingbird is still under copyright, without the permission of the copyright owner, I don’t have the right to sell any such adapt ion. This makes me wonder about a host of other reader’s theater scripts  for sale on TpT. From Charlie Brown to Charlotte’s Web to Dr. Seuss…I wonder just how “legal” such products really are.

Know that every play I produce has been legally adapted. What’s more, most all of them have previously appeared in Scope and Storyworks, meaning my wonderful editors and diligent fact-checkers at Scholastic have gone over them with a magnifying glass and a copy of the Chicago Elements of Style.

All my plays also come with reproduction and performance rights. The original purchaser is licensed to print a full classroom set for use in his or her classroom once each year. And that same class is licensed to perform it, whether in the gym or the Performing Arts Center over on Ethel Merman Boulevard. That’s not the case with scripts appearing in most drama magazines or with plays available from theater publishers. Their terms require you to purchase expensive performance rights—even if you’re an underfunded school.

I didn’t ask that middle school teacher to remove my play from her site. I don’t want to discourage her from using my play or technology, and for the most part, her classroom site is difficult to find. My hope is that, like the reader who reported it to me, my customers will respect the copyright notice clearly printed on each play and purchase legal versions. To those of you who respect copyright, thank you!

Happy directing.

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Black Students Denied Service

Rodney_Powell_Nashville_sit-ins_1960 PD NonrenewedImagine seeing the words “Whites Only” at your favorite restaurant! We can be thankful that it’s unthinkable today. But when so much time has passed, how do we help today’s kids truly make sense of such attitudes and events?

On February 1st, 1960, four African-American college students walked into a Woolworth’s Store, sat down at the lunch counter, ordered and were refused coffee.  They vowed to stay until the store desegregated its lunch counter.  Five months later, Woolworth’s finally relented and began serving blacks and whites alike. It was an important moment in the history of American.  The event is portrayed in my original Storyworks play, “Sitting Down for Doctor King.”

What better way to honor his legacy, meet the Common Core, and give your students an authentic Civil Rights experience than by re-enacting events such as Greensboro?  Read aloud plays put your students in the action, allowing them to understand the motivations and feelings of the participants firsthand. Read Aloud Plays also help satisfy many of the Literature and Information Text standards in grades 3 through 7. But students can also utilize Read Aloud Plays to “adapt speech to a variety of contexts”, “evaluate a speaker’s point of view”, and “integrate and evaluate  information presented in diverse media…,” which are all Speaking and Listening standards.

And there’s no limit as to how you use them. Pair plays with discussion, history videos (there are a ton of them on the Web), chapters from your History text book, works of literature, picture books, and more. Read a play once, or divvy up parts and practice for three or four weeks. Read Aloud Plays can be fit into almost any schedule and almost any curriculum.

For starters, check out my original Read Aloud Plays about the Greensboro Sit-ins, the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and The March on Washington, where Dr. King presented his I Have a Dream speech.  Or explore some of my other Black History plays. Nearly all my plays were commissioned by and originally published by Scholastic, so you know they’re of the highest quality, and all of them come with reproduction and performance rights.  If you’re new to using drama, also be sure to download my free guide.

Satisfy the CCSs and bring MLK Day to life for your students. Download some Read Aloud Plays today. Happy Directing!

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