Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It occurred to me the other day that I have been horrible about blogging; not only here in my reflection space but also in my personal blogs I've just let everything slip.  Largely, it's due to the fact that I spend all day this year pretty much staring at a computer screen, which makes it tough to do so even for personal reasons in the evening.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving's pause for reflection on the year, here's what's been happening this school year.

I've struggled a lot this year with having new courses.  Two of my courses are completely new to me and while I have taught the other two before, I would hardly say I've done either of them really well.  But I've really tried to up my efforts at making all four classes great this year.

In Communications Media (Comm Media), we have done a lot of media watching and discussing and writing, but I've really struggled with what to HAVE THEM DO.  I know there's a ton of research out there about having students create media, but have had a hard time figuring out what to have them do that would be meaningful.  After spending a lot of time viewing and discussing television (sitcom, reality, and children's being our main focal points), and the stereotypes created and/or reinforced (gender roles and behavior, stereotypes; mainly the same things we discussed in our advertising unit), I decided to have students create a sitcom in which they would either challenge or parody those stereotypes, demonstrate their understanding of the "rules" of sitcoms, and identify the ways in which shows target a particular audience.  I mentioned this project to my class on Tuesday before our Thanksgiving break, and had them develop the rules of the project with me; we came up with this.

Day 1 went really well as students developed the basic plots and characters of the shows, petitioned for bonus points for product placement, and generally collaborated.  One rule I instituted on-the-fly was that there must be each gender represented in each group in the hopes this would mix up the groups a little bit more than sometimes occurs.  I was most pleased to see what looked like true collaboration; students were in a circle, facing each other, and discussing the plotlines and what would or wouldn't work.  It was also clear which students weren't participating as much as others by their body language and location on the outskirts of a group.

I am really enjoying this class.  I love leading students in learning about things they care about and are often pushed to the outskirts of school.  I also believe we're doing important stuff if students begin to consider what messages media is sending to them and what impact it has on their thinking and society.  It's a struggle, though, to come up with new things in an area that is so new to me (hey, I love media as much as my students do, but teaching them how to be media analysts rather than consumers is new to me too!)  I am so thankful that I work in a district that gives me the freedom to teach this course in a way that bends the rules of following the curriculum precisely.  I'm also so thankful to have a good friend teaching a similar course in another school who is willing to share resources!

Humanities is the other course that is new to me this year.  It's also a pretty flexible course, but is even harder to find comparable courses being taught elsewhere from which to borrow materials.  Again, we have a great curriculum that is an area that's pretty new to me; I love art and music but teaching about it is a completely different animal.

Students recently completed our unit on modern music by designing the Soundtrack of their Lives.  I totally stole this assignment from another teacher.  I was amazed at what came out of such a simple seeming assignment.  Students really got creative and opened up about what their life stories were in a very personal way.  It occurred to me that it's too bad we don't learn these kinds of things about our students until so late in their high school careers; wouldn't it be great to have an assignment like this when we FIRST meet them so we can know these things all along?  Of course, they mentioned that there was no way they'd have had the trust in us and their classmates at the very beginning--a double edge sword, I suppose.

I feel like, even more than in Comm Media, I am flying by the seat of my pants, so to speak, in this class.  This is a struggle but also a blessing; I'm taking ideas from the curriculum and expanding them to what the interests of my students seem to be (hopefully I'm doing ok at meeting them!)  For example, I planned to show my students a documentary about how music was used to help and reflect the Civil Rights Movement.  They were bored by it and saw a different documentary on my desk (Pom Wonderful Presents:  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which I had used in Comm Media).  On the fly, I changed the assignment to one about selling out and artistic integrity, which fits into the goals of our Humanities course pretty well, and was certainly more engaging to them than my original plan.  This then transitioned to our viewing A Raisin in the Sun.  We discussed a different type of selling out, racism and prejudice, and the Civil Rights Movement in that way as well as viewing a classic film based on a play.

In this class, I decided to use the idea of the Twenty Percent Project to get students working on projects they care about.  It hasn't been as wildly successful as I hoped, since students are struggling with the ongoing reflection piece.  I keep giving feedback that they need to write more to indicate what they are doing and learning and working on each week.  I'm not sure how to help them improve in this area so that they can get better feedback on their projects.  For the most part, though, they are doing some exciting projects, which can be found here.

I'm really proud of what's going on in these classes, though I'm not particularly sure how all this would rate on any evaluation I might get from an administrator observing my classes.