Saturday, October 25, 2008

E.L.D. - Story Theatre?

In the Dual Immersion classes I've taught lately, the lesson plan always includes a section on "English Language Development" (E.L.D.) It is usually scheduled late in the day, after lunch for sure and it is more relaxed in foremat. Usually there is a contingent from another class or two to participate. These are kids who don't hear much English at home or in their daily lives. They have a very limited vocabulary in both English and Spanish. No one close to them speaks to them in any language more than the usual monosyllabic, interactive commands and directives of everyday living. There is no exposure to books in the home or visits to the library.

For these reasons I have found lately that they, most of them, just love to do "Story Theater" in English and/or by song. It is full of play with and on words that has been missing in their verbal lives. Some of your basic nursery rhymes and stories are just missing. Fairy Tales, whether they be Grimm's or Andersson's are fascinating to them. You could read them a different one everyday. It was always part of my culture growing up but it is missing from theirs. They may have other stories i.e. "Lorena" or (currently) "Dia De Los Muertos" stories. They are just starved for this kind of verbal interaction.

This past week in at least three different classes/grade levels I tried: "The House That Jack Built" in choral verse and story Theatre. You remember "Story Theater". It was very popular and even on TV a few years back...maybe 20? I remember taking our Indian Guide Boys Tribe to the Music Center in L.A. (smaller theater) to see a production of several stories...including "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg" - my favorite. It was done with a giant scrim - panoramic screne where the characters, all attached, froze in silhouette. The main characters "narrated themselves" as they performed the story. (that's the pure form of Story Theater) It is very charming and effective. Full costumes and props are used.

Well, with "Jack" we modified it to where the main group of the class was the "narrator" and the actor/charactors formed tableaus only moving when a "key" word was spoken over and over again in the narration. i.e.
This is the house that Jack built.
This is the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the rat that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This the cat that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the dog that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the farmer (Jack) out sowing his corn who loved the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn, who tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This the priest all tattered and torn who married the farmer all shaven and shorn who loved the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
They just loved it and wanted to do it again with different people doing the parts...they choose. Each bold word is a verb or adjective which had a "look" or an "action" attached to it and was only done at that moment in the story. We even added another verse to include the left-over kids in the voice choir as "their (Jack and Jill's) progeny" i.e.
These are their kids, all of them born after the priest...(etc.)
Now, what message do you think this subliminally sends to these kids about how we might feel about "marriage"? It is now coming up for a it is not part of the our 2nd grades. Any school district will tell you that. But this is the "cultural" moral environment in which we teach/learn. It is bound to be passed on.
We tried to make each "action" or movement connected with the verbs and adjectives very dramatic and decisive. i.e. House = two kids raised their arms/hand facing each other to form a "roof", "lay" = cheese squeezed up into a ball in the "house" "ate" = rat nibbled with his fingers on the shoulder of the "cheese", "chased" = cat made a cat-like clawing motion and hissed at the "rat", "worried" = the dog snarled and bared his teeth at the "cat", "crumpled horn and tossed" = the cow making a crooked "horn" on her head with her right (upstage) hand and doing a "tossing" motion at the "dog" with it and her head. "all forlorn and milked" = the maiden looked sad , downcast and wiped down on her cheek and then did the "milking motion" toward the cow with her two hands going down, "sowing and loved" = the farmer broadcasting the seed motion and then looking over at the maiden and placing his hand over his heart and looking "struck", "tattered and torn" = the priest looked downcast but so serious as he "blessed" Jack and Jill by placing his hand over their heads consecutively, "shaven and shorn" = farmer Jack spruces up by wiping his chin and hair as he approaches the priest and Jill to stand, "born" = the kids, any number romp and play in the audience.
A follow-up would be to discuss the meanings all the new words and phrases and how we used them. We could even have a "writing lesson" follow-up" writing it all down as we remembered it or creating new ways to use the words we learned. What I would've seen years ago is that "whole play" make it out to the playground under a tree and performed "ad lib" over and over again at recess (mainly by girls). You never see any of that kind of "play" anymore...even in kindergarten. The dubious "gift" of TV and force-fed imagery in video games? RRR

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hail and Not Farewell to Pete Seeger

" On May 3rd, 2008, shortly after completing (the above)recordings, Pete Seeger turned eighty-nine. Some might ask, 'Why put out another recording at this late date?' The answer is simple, 'Because.' Because, at 89, Pete is still vibrant and interested and creative." (from the notes of the Album) He still chops wood and drives his car and ice skates on his driveway at midnight. He sill attends the Beacon Sloop Club potluck suppers, collects donations for the VFW, boils maple syrup with his wife Toshi, and stands out in the heat and cold every Saturday at the vigil against the Iraq war - and he still writes songs.
He has long been a "mentor of mine". It started when I tried to learn to play the banjo with Mrs. Chase of the Folk Music Center. She had classes at Memorial Park every week and recommended his book. I soon found out that I was more of a "strummer" instead of a "picker" and I gravitated toward the autoharp and ukulele as accompaniment instruments. My career's goal, like his, was getting people (young people) to sing along with me. (not sing solos) Mostly it worked and continues to work as I now substitute teach. My words and content have been more instructive and less "revolutionary". I was very active in the early Environment Movement which has now caught on again as "The Green Movement". I served in the military (Navy) even though, like him, I was against war. (he was in the Army) I can remember having lots of fun singing "Abiyoyo" after I heard his rendition. It is his playfulness with kids that I like. That is when I'm at my happiest.
His on-going support for cleaning up the Hudson River around where he has lived reminds me of drives and endeavors I got into with some of my classrooms. i.e. We did not live anywhere near the beach but we got all the paraphealia to clean-up beaches. We met at a local park. In my visits around to different schools now days I see very little of this type of activity. Kids like to be active and involved in projects and then learn to read and write better with a purpose for their future. Not much of this anymore. "One of these days...or else", a song on this album, is especially meaningful to us now.
I was so encouraged to hear of the artistic success of Springsteen's Seeger Sessions. To hear young people now singing the songs of Guthrie, Dylan and Seeger with new meaning and it is... heartening. "This Land is Your Land" (all the verses) are still being learned even by Kindergarteners. They get "a kick" out my calling my Uke "Woody"...talking to and about it. They think it is "Woody" from "Toy Story". They don't know, it is "Woody" Guthrie.
Just to think that he is soon starting his tenth decade of this kind of "fun life" gives me hope. He has had some "dark times", like being "Black Listed" and admitting to be a "different kind of communist". I don't aspire to any of that. But, I do believe that I do better with "a cause", something to improve and work on in our schools. That's why I'm continuing to write this blog and teach the way I do. I again could've worked everyday last week. I was requested. I had to take a break and only work three. However, in those three days, I was able to suggest and demonstrate some "rubrics" of change, of hope and fun...not just prep for tests. So, Hail to you Pete. Long may you...wave! RRR

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Usage Quotient?

Another week of "guest teaching" and some new challenges and observations were brought up for consideration. I actually worked four out of the five days in seven different classrooms. On Tuesday I started in a very organized 3rd grade dual immersion (DI) class in the inner city. They had requested my services again and I found them just as enthusiastic and well behaved. The twenty of them were grouped(4's-6's), with team names and they were used to working together to help each other with assignments. I tried to motivate individuals/teams by putting up a potential list on the board entitled "Muy Bien Hecho" (Very Well Done). They had responded last time and they did again. There was a "front" to the room with an "ELMO" which is a state-of-the-art overhead that can project book pages etc. and not just transparancies. However, I was encouraged to move around the room to motivate and help groups and individuals. I immediately separated two girls who hadn't gotten along last time and were starting again. They were asked to "write" their opinions in their journals and to share them with each other. There was lots of "evidence" of the importance of writing on their bulletin boards. We even had "visitors"=observers who were from another district or within the district who seemed to be impressed. I would give this class a high U.Q. (usage quotient). My definition of "usage" in writing is right out of the dictionary:1. "The act, manner or amount of using. 2. A usual, habitual or accepted practice. 3. The way in which words or phrases are actually used in a speech/writing community." I actually had the question, over and over, do you want us to write this response in English or Spanish?

The next day, a different school and a vastly different challenge was had. I was replacing two teachers who were being "inservice trained" for 1/2 a day. I started in a First grade in the A.M. and again had a "writing/teaching" challenge. They had a story starting on the "group rug" about a bug that made a "secret-hide-away home". We then discussed if they had ever made or had a secret hideaway at home (made with a draped blanket say). This was a long and lively discussion/contribution of all the possible "forts - tents" etc. We then wrote a "story" about it on a big piece of lined paper as an example...with their suggestions for least four. Then a picture of it. They were then asked to go to their seats and produce their own "story"/"picture" or copy mine/ours. They were all gung ho to do it with varying degrees of success. I let them come and ask how to spell key words they needed. I put the words on small "whiteboard slates" and sent them back to their desks with the word(s). It was very indiviualized and rather chaotic. They were involved and using their own language. The key was when they or I tried to read what they had written back to them. This was about 50% successful...but it was a first grade. I'd again give this effort an above average U.Q. but it was much more difficult to get these results.

In the P.M. I was shuttled to three different Kindergartens (one was even a Pre-K) where my challenge was more in the area of teaching decoding, reading rhyming words, and singing songs with the groups that used rhyming words. The key was to get them to listen and repeat those sounds and identify them when they saw them again. We played "Phonics Bingo" over and over again with four different groups. We dipped down deep into my "songs" repertoire. We ended up singing "Happy Birthday" and "Las Mananitas" twice in two different classrooms. Here, with these aged kids, U.Q. was very basic and verbal/outloud. Many/most were not coming from a very verbal family, not rich in vocabulary or even "word play" even making up nonsense words for rhyming. This has to preceed any kind of written expression in my book. What a challenge for these kindergarten teachers.

The next day I was again in another inner city school, third grade, D.I. class. This time the challenge was one of constant interruptions of "pulling out individuals for testing" every ten minutes or so. We again tried some "positive motivation" with "extrinsic rewards" (a special sticker) We called the list: "Ganadores" (winners) to replace the usual list of "warnings for getting in trouble" "Let me catch you doing something good or helpful." There was a great response with many kids trying to help me and trying to get a positive way. Here the classroom was orientated to one front with the teacher/overhead/white bulletin board in the center. There was no attempt at grouping or getting them to work together. There was no "creative writing" assignment but a series of fill-in hand-outs to go over as a large group. I went through them by calling on individuals to respond in a very predictable way, so they had plenty of warning. It was hard to do much else with all the interruptions. Their highlight of the day was "Silent Ball" played with my "Balzac". I'm afraid I'd have to give this class, these 3rd graders, a lower U.G. because there was not much evidence of their attempts at "usage" of their language, Spanish (30%) or English (70%) as advertised in the lesson plan.

Yesterday, my final day of Usage Observation, was probably the most revealing and pathetic. It was a combination 4th-5th class (not D.I.) and again there were on-going interruptions for testing. However, the other big challenge was the "movement/shuttling" of 1/2 or more of the class every hour or so. This was an attempt to have a more homogenous grouping for teaching Language Arts or Math. I still have a room filled with desks and backpacks on the floor, with 34 plus in each group.
(hardly space to walk/get around to help and observe/correct spelling tests on the spot.)

The Language Arts Fifth Graders were being asked to all write a paragraph about "A Favorite Relative". This was first facilitated?by an "organizer sheet" asking for topic sentences and then supportive detail/reason sentences. They had to fill that out first, then write the finished paragraph in their spiral journal notebook. Of course, we got the questions, how many sentences was minimum? and what is a relative? It was a valid test of their U.Q. I thought and I was looking forward to reading their attempts at this assignment. However, we all had to do a "reading assignment" follow-up sheet. Earlier in the week, I guess they had read a story in their Reader about "La Bomba". They had to listen to the CD of it again and follow along in their books. This was no problem and it took about 15 minutes. The response sheet asked five multiple choice questions about the story and two essay question responses of a sentence or two. I corrected these sheets later and found that they responded to the multiple choice questions with ease but the essay questions were another "story" (pun intended) They didn't get what a "summary" was and only one or two even got close to summing up the "Bomba Story". They were mostly telling how they felt about it. The other question was also lost on them. i.e. the pivotal role of the friend/relative trumpet player in scratching the performance CD to cause it to skip and repeat. There were few capitals, punctuation marks or standards of usage.

I also noticed that their traditional Friday Spelling/Vocabulary Test had no usage component. They were asked to spell 20 words in printing or cursive with no capitals. They were asked to then match them to pre-written definitions on the same page. I asked them if they ever wrote them into sentences, one or two spelling words per their "made-up" sentence (underlining the words)? Nope.
This, at the fifth grade, is one of the best "usage" exercises and should be always given for homework first. I would give extra credit for two or more spelling words in the same sentence or exclamation, declaration or question with the proper punctuation. This would prove that they really knew how to use the words and their meanings. So, I'm afraid that this last class would get a very low or even no U.Q. A quotient is the name of an answer in division. When you divide by zero, in our schools, what do you get? RRR