Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lights! Camera! Action! (X7)

Ah, yes. The familiar 3-word exclamation to signal the start of "Dramatic Performance". I used to love it. In my former career, whenever I announced it, "fun" was in store for me and the students. That chance to perform, make believe, be creative, take a bow usually always had the same effect/affect: great concentration, focus, intensity, and mostly teamwork. Former students would come back years later and confess to me that "our plays" were what they remembered and enjoyed the most.

Well, now days, school has changed for the most part. Rarely do I see in any lesson plans at any level the suggestions to "role play" or act it out, a kinetic kind of learning that really sticks with some kids, especially if they are in middle or intermediate school. It was my rare "treat" this last week to spend a day, yes, all 7 periods (45 mins. each) with fifth graders. They were cycled to me as the "Art/Music/P.E. teacher". I signed up to try this because of my past memories of fun with this age kid. Was I surprised. Getting 33 plus, darkly-clad, preteens every forty-five minutes to do the same lesson over and over again for seven times was enervating and challenging. After the third time I started to get a bit "testy" with their rude and disrespectful behavior to me and each other. I guess that is just par for the course now.

Anyway, as part of physical education, this teacher was assigned by her peer 5th grade teachers to teach a unit on "Drug Abuse" and this lesson in particular was very cogent: "Dangers of Tobacco Abuse and Truth in Advertising". Yes, they were right at the age when peer pressure (#1) and pop culture ads (#2) would have the most pervasive effect. What was planned was a two-page skit with the characters: "Coach" "Cigar" "Cigarette" "Chewing Tobacco" and "Dip". The plot: Coach had to pick a new team and he was being influenced by "ads". Each principal was trying to convince him that they would be the best for the team...pick them. As you can see, it was ripe for the usual jokes and sight-gags. Since I didn't know the kids, after the first period run I let them pick and choose the cast. That took longer but was more successful. They wanted to do it again. So I promised we would at the end of the period if we could get through the material, workbook page assigned etc. without the usual interruptions and disruptions. Most of the 7 classes were able to achieve this goal with one or two exceptions due more to slow and incompetent reading skills. This was even after they had heard it read once. One group couldn't finish in time, the bell buzzed, and they were out the door. Nothing interrupts the schedule at one of these "passing type schools" They spend most of their time in two core classes of Lang. Arts and Math/Sci. and then the electives are chosen for them. They are lined up and escorted to them with great reminstrance.

Obviously, with this brief set up, there were no "Lights or Cameras".(not in the shrinking budget) And there was very little time for dramatic action. It was more like "Reader's Theater" all lined up taking turns, being prompted every other line when they had lost their place in the script. Several had a hard time standing in front of the class for that long (10 mins. max.) Forget any characterization conveyed in the voice or inflexion. Just get through it with lots of laughs from the impolite "audience". It was plain to see they had had little experience at this sort of "learning" and it's cooperation and cohesiveness. Not taught, I guess, anymore.

Did they learn something about the "evils" of tobacco addiction etc.? Probably yes. Like: one out of four are still addicted to some form of tobacco. The difference between pouch tobacco (chew) and dip in the round tin. The "tar" from the glue on the cigarette paper. The mouth, tongue, lips, etc. damage/cancer with chewing. We talked about baseball players' habits and their outdoor work environment which permits spitting. One girl out of the approx. 230 kids admitted she had tried smoking and didn't like it. I think many more had and just wouldn't admit it. They were respectful listeners when I told them about my own loved one and his on-going battle with addiction. Nicotine addiction is much stronger than alcohol.

"Too Good For Drugs" is the title of the pre-packaged program. I taught "Dare" for many years at this level and younger. Before that, another colleague/teacher and I created the first "Drug Abuse" curriculum for a local school system and went to every elementary in the district with week series of lessons. These included local authorities like police and even a judge. I kept doing it three more years a a private school until some of the "cocktail drinking" parents got irritated with my remarks to the kids about "social drinking and smoking". My contract was not renewed. I also used a bit of drama/role playing in my lessons. They were enjoyable if not a bit scary to the kids.

At least this is one area of the curriculum that "administrators" have not been able to test and report to the voters. Tragically the tests are "real life" and in some cases final tests and fatal. RRR

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