Posts Tagged teaching strategies

Is There an App for That?

Indestructible NokiaI’m told school districts around the country are investing millions of dollars into iPads and other online devices. The idea is that students can use these devices to access their textbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias via the Internet. After all, hand-held devices–not printed volumes of the World Britannica–are the future.

Me, I’m salivating over a class set of laptops with which my fifth graders can do their writing, post to their webpages, watch student-created instructional videos, and bombard me with in-lesson feedback via Twitter.

But it’ll never happen. My district just can’t afford to invest $15K for a single classroom set of machines that will be outdated in just a few years. When put to the daily abuse levied by fifth graders, I doubt the machines would survive that long anyway.

But a funny thing keeps happening in my classroom. Whenever we need something that my generation had to find in a book, some student will invariably say, “Can I use my phone?” Need to know the definition for lugubrious? Need a picture of the state flag of Georgia? Need to know the formula for calculating the area of a circle? It’s all there at their fingertips on each student’s individual phone.

Kids can use their phones to record themselves reading, to film your next class play, to create short movies, to document field trips, and more. So why invest tax dollars in electronics the students already possess? Sure, you’ll have to bust a kid from time to time for texting when he’s supposed to be studying. But how’s that any different than busting him for passing notes? Do we ban pencils and paper? True, you may have that kid who uses his phone to cheat on a test. But that’s probably the same kid who’ll have notes scribbled on his arm or have his binder suspiciously open beneath his desk.

What about those kids who don’t have phones? Well, it wasn’t but a few years ago that only a handful of my students had online access at home. Today, that figure is around 95%. It won’t be too long before we see the same circumstances with phones. In fact, I estimate that nearly half of my 5th graders–eleven year olds!–already carry phones, and every one of ’em is vastly superior to my own woefully-outdated but indestructible Nokia (pictured at left). And before you go thinking my school is in some wealthy suburb of Portland, know that it has a 70% Free-and-Reduced population.

Consider this: we require $100 calculators for high school calculus (and I’ll bet you there’s an app for that), and those that can’t afford it have access to loaners. What’s wrong with applying the same logic to hand-held devices?

Cell phone technology creates life-long learners who are always just a click or two away from finding the information they need to accomplish nearly any given task. It’s how adults operate these days. It’s how we should be teaching our kids.

The future is already here, and most of our kids are holding it in their hands. We just have to let them turn the dang things on.

Happy Directing!

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When Your Character Gets Questioned

SCOPE-110113-PlayWhat can you do when your character gets questioned but you’re unable to defend yourself? In my new play in the November issue of Scholastic’s Scope Magazine, a peasant in 19th-century France is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The harder he tries to clear his name, the less people believe him. Does he get what he deserves? Guy de Maupassant’s classic story, A Piece of String, makes a great characterization activity. Vivid characters, a compelling plot, and a interesting moral make for great classroom discussion. You can get A Piece of String by becoming a Scope subscriber, and you can preview the play here.

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Common Core Wearing on Ya Yet?

Scope Reformation CoverLike most of you, the start of the new school year has left me scrambling to keep up. Fortunately, Read Aloud Plays can help. Take a look at what teachers are saying about using plays in the classroom.

Mack, Thanks for another excellent RT. I am a loyal fan of your work. Always a hit with my students too. – Anne J.,

Thank you! My wonderful editors at Scholastic and my fifth graders seem to be of the same opinion. My 45th play, an adaption of De Maupassant’s “A Piece of String,” is scheduled for release in an upcoming issue of Scope Magazine, and I have three other Scope-commissioned plays waiting in the wings. RT users can also utilize my work by purchasing either of my two collections: Symbols of America or Classic Short Stories. I also have twenty read aloud plays available on Teachers PayTeachers. Because most of these originally appeared in either Scope or Storyworks, you can bet the quality is top-notch..

Used this on a family civil war themed camping trip with my own family. – Dowdy K.

I find this really telling. After all, when was the last time anyone took an HM text book on a camping trip? Read Aloud Plays work because they’re fun. Couple the fun with great content such as a classic tale or an important historical event –and you have academic gold!

Highly Recommended. I was able to tie much of my social studies in with LA due to many good “reader’s Theater” plays like these. Thanks.  – Shannon P.

I’ve crafted numerous reader’s theater scripts for Scholastic covering the Civil Right Movement and American History. Especially poignant plays include Sitting Down for Dr. King, which is set during the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, and Freedom for the First Time, which deals with a slave family’s reaction to the conclusion of the Civil War. The latter made me cry when I wrote it, and even now after dozens of uses, still makes me tear up.

Another winner for this high school sped teacher!brettandjenn02

Read Aloud Plays allow students to read repetitively, something that many Sped students didn’t do when they were preschoolers. Consequently, RT is an ideal method of improving fluency. Download my free guide to using drama for more information on the brain research behind Read Aloud Plays.

Fantastic way to energize my 8th graders!sorlando678

An old veteran of the classroom once told me that “fun” teachers make sure kids enjoy school, good teachers make sure kids learn what they’re supposed to learn, but great teachers do both. Read Aloud Plays both engage students and support the CCSs.

This reader’s theatre provided a nice alternative to standard aloud reading for my class as they completed their short story unit.nancyhn

Rather than just reading a classic short story such a The Monkey’s Paw, Cyclops, Sleepy Hollow, or Peter Rabbit, how about reading the short story and enacting the play at the same time? What a great way for kids to develop their inferential comprehension!

Happy Directing!

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How Engaging are Read Aloud Plays?

Why Use Drama cover 220x289How engaging are read aloud plays? Consider this bit of anecdotal evidence:  In December my students were working on my adaption of Guy DeMaupassant’s The Necklace for presentation on stage, as well as a movie version of A Christmas Carol (which you can view if you scroll down a couple of posts). Consequently the kids went home for vacation with both these scripts tucked away in their binders.  Upon returning, one of my students shared how on Christmas her family decided to use the scripts and act out the plays themselves.  Imagine the scene:  Dad croaking out “Bah Humbug,” middle school brother haunting him in the night, and Grandma chiming in as The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Note, too, that my student at the core of all this receives SPED services. These plays have gripped her (and her family) in a way that novels and text books haven’t.  In my classroom, students regularly read chapter books in our “Book Clubs” and get plenty of instruction with short works, poetry, and non-fiction using Storyworks classroom magazine, but over twenty years of teaching, it’s consistently been the read aloud plays that most engage them.  And let’s conclude with this, when was the last time your students took the text book home and read it around the Christmas tree? Visit my TeachersPayTeachers store for access to dozens of engaging play scripts. Each has been classroom-tested, most were originally published by Scholastic–which means they meet the highest standards–and all come with full production rights, meaning your $3 gets you a class set you can use year-after-year. Happy directing!

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Engaging Kids for MLK Day

King and Johnson With Martin Luther King Day just around the corner, I’ve frequently been asked of late, “How do you get kids meaningfully engaged in Civil Rights and Black History?” It’s a good question. Other than the appeal of the teacher, why should some white kid in suburban Flagstaff care about King’s work fifty years after the fact?

I’ve heard about good simulations, such as the one where classrooms segregate students based on eye-color, hair-color, or by lottery and allow one group to abuse the other for a day. Such activities are powerful—but they’re also controversial. Civil Rights is an important topic, but there’s no reason to do something that’s going to make your students cry, land you in your administrator’s office, or possibly require the services of an attorney.

A better way, I’m convinced, is to re-enact actual events through Read Aloud Plays. Imagine your students actually marching in Birmingham, getting thrown off the bus in Montgomery, or being tear-gassed in Selma.
How can we create in our students true empathy for what victims of racism experienced? How about having them enact the play The Girl Who Got Arrested in which—a year before Rosa Parks—a teenaged girl becomes the first to get thrown in jail for challenging Montgomery’s segregated bus system?

How do we get kids today to feel what the crusaders felt? Have them enact the play, Sitting Down for Dr. King, in which a white boy in Greensboro watches the Lunch Counter Sit-ins unfold around him and ultimately sacrifices his own interests to join the protestors.

Using Read Aloud Plays to teach Civil Rights comes with the added benefits that the approach improves reading fluency, aids comprehension, and helps meet 47 Common Core Standards. Forty-seven!  Nearly all of my Black History plays have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazines such as Storyworks and Scope, so they meet the highest standards. And because I’ve been writing and using Black History plays with my own students for nearly twenty years, I can attest to the fact that kids LOVE enacting these plays and learning about these events.

We Shall Overcome, my most popular Civil Rights play on TeachersPayTeachers, re-enacts the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Television reporters cover the events as Bull Conner bullies protestors and school kids, and firehouses blast away as crusaders sing, “We shall overcome/we shall overcome/ we shall overcome someday…” Donning the persona of these characters, be they Bull Conners, MLKs, or Ruby Bridges, changes a person. Kids love to discuss how it makes them feel.

So, how do you get kids meaningfully engaged in Civil Rights and Black History this MLK Day? With Read Aloud Plays. For tips on how to get the most out of Read Aloud Plays, download my free article, “Why Use Drama?”

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