A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
If you are anything like me you have probably wondered to yourself (more than a few times) HOW AM I GOING TO GET THE KIDS INTERESTED IN THIS. Well, that can be one of the most challenging or exciting (depending on why you do what you do) aspects of the profession of education. How do I deliver this content or skill to the student, while keeping them engaged and committed to success.
I actually think about this quite frequently when planning lessons, units, and especially when I am reteaching something that didn't quite go as planned the first go around. I always ask myself this fundamental question: How can I make this thing relevant to kids? If you are planning amazing questions without a focus on the relevancy you are not able to get into the deep analysis level that makes me (an English teacher) so excited.
I'll admit it. I'll do almost anything to make a lesson come to life in the classroom. I've read books like Teach Like a Pirate and Ditch that Textbook and have really embraced the full engagement model in the secondary classroom, at times, to my great personal embarrassment. However, with personal embarrassment can come professional triumph. Getting kids engaged in content is key to developing skills they can use later on in their lives to achieve their goals, their dreams, and will directly impact their families and futures.
Our class has been working through The Odyssey and has done a great job sticking to our objective:
Students will be able to analyze elements of an epic poem, such as, plot, setting, character, and figurative language.
We just completed student presentations, prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday, where students (in pairs) dissected, analyzed, and presented to class about a movie selection of their choice and how it fits within the elements of a Hero's Journey.
Coming back from class I hope to reinvigorate students in the story as we move to Part II (The Homecoming). Leveraging the viral social media sensation of the mannequin challenge students will be asked to in three scenes produce, film, and publish an original mannequin challenge video in small groups acting out scenes from The Odyssey. Students will be required to work together to tell the whole story (think Cyclops, the Sirens, the Lotus Eaters, etc.) in a three scene mannequin challenge format.
Leveraging relevancy (viral nature of the project) student engagement will skyrocket and they will (without knowing it) be analyzing the plot, setting, and characters in a three scene tableau. See how easy that was? To make it even easier, I have posted the assignment and rubric I created for this project below.
I thought this movie would make a great film study of character, Appalachian culture, in and out migration, and finally symbolism. Think about the piece of wood Gerdie is attempting to carve as her masterpiece. Why can't she get the face done? What is more important to her -- the face of Christ or the wood itself? Why? What about the argument Gerdie has with Clovis. How is this argument symbolic of Gerdie holding on to her upbringing and story as an Appalachian woman?
Today we had the opportunity to do a small group acting workshop with professional actress Nafeesa Monroe who is currently appearing in The Wedding Gift at the Contemporary American Theater Festival here at Shepherd University. WOW! So many takeaways and fun activities to do with students to get them into character or to analyze/summarize plot, etc.
I'll be honest -- I almost groan every year when I have to do a drama in English class. I can tell you that this workshop really made me understand how to make this fun and exciting for my kids and I think the icebreakers and activities would be engaging even when studying literature.
To tell the story as an actor you need to know how you appear -- in all aspects. We started the session by simply walking around the space at a normal pace. As we got comfortable walking about Nafessa would tell us at what pace to walk (think 1-10, with a 5 being a standard pace.) Then she would announce that we should use a particular part of our body to change our stride. Maybe being led (like you had a string attached to the left hip/then the right hip/toes/heart/head/belly/etc.) Each minor change to the stride helped to produce the look of a different kind of character. I thought the right hip looked more regal or royal, where the heart appeared more open (arms wide and outstretched.)
The second exercise was an open scene where a set three line and two character interaction is written down and in pairs you act out your interpretation.
Here were the lines:
A: What time is it?
B: Um, it's 7.
A: Oh. Thanks.
This forced us to come up with a backstory and add emotions and interactions to the lines to portray a character. My group decided that character A was a woman on a blind date (he's obviously late or she's being ditched) and character B is the waiter at the restaurant. Here's a video example of an acting class using simple dialog and adding the emotion to the scene with their facial expressions and body language:
I'll post PART 2 of the acting workshop later on...
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.