Friday, March 13, 2015

I Wrote Down My Dream #sol15

Riding in the bed of a pickup truck, I braced myself as a friend backed us towards an empty parking space. He likes backing into spaces. A 1980s Chevy Caprice--robin's egg blue--turned into our aisle of the parking lot.

We were at our local Giant--which had lost power. My friend was a generic dream-friend, faceless and voiceless.

Before we reached the space, the Caprice rear-ended us. The old woman driving was going to steal out space by backing-in first. And she did.

Wrankled, I took a photo of her doing it with my phone. And I yelled generic dream-language, wordless and soundless.

She didn't like that I took her photo, so she pulled out and drove towards the end of the parking lot. Several police cars were pulled to the side of the road along with other cars. We followed in our truck and parked get to a policeman first. I had evidence.

The road was dark and shadowy. Patches of light created a herringbone of shadow--the moon, headlights, streetlights, stars--in places the low clouds covered sky the like grey flannel in texture and color.

Policemen and volunteers entered the wheat field along the roadside. Apprehension, tension, nerves defined their cautious steps as they disappeared from the road. Swallowed by the field. They would begin scouring the waist-high wheat for a missing child. None were interested in our dispute. What was going on was serious.

Nevertheless, the old woman garnered the attention of one policeman--all in dark blue and black. Away from me, he briefly interviewed her and then my faceless friend. He never interviewed me or asked to see the photographic evidence. But I would be the only one punished.

My neighbor--an older man who I do not get along with in real life--appeared and delivered the verdict.

For my malfeasance I would have to apologize to her.

And that is where the dream erodes and crumbles and I wake up. Still, I can recall the scraps of the dream--I was not happy about the veridct.

And I kept turning the word malfeasance over and over--saying it--thinking it.

I woke up saying malfeasance to myself. It is a word which I don't use in my daily language. And as I write I have questions around my dream:

  1. how do words (words we never use) become burned into some recess of our brain? and how was it retrieved? am I dreaming of vocabulary? if so, #nerd.
  2. what is going on with the wheat field and the missing child?
  3. I knew Chevy Caprice. How did I know Chevy Caprice? I'm not a car guy in the least, but when I Googled "Chevy Caprice" that was the car in my dream. And a robins-egg blue Caprice is searchable. Again, where does that come from in our brains? What released that image and term in my sleep into some kind of reasonable coherent narrative?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shoot Your Cuff #sol15

So, a funny thing happened on my way home from work yesterday. I received a call from an associate professor from my alma mater. I haven't been in touch with my alma mater in over twenty years--and I have never met professor Dr. Joseph Haviland.

Dr. Haviland has been looking for a teacher who uses the writer's workshop method in class. A colleague of his suggested reaching out to me. I know his colleague, Jolene Borgese, through her teaching, writing, and work with the National Writing Project.

At the end of the month, I will lead a group of our future teachers in what writing workshop looks like in my class.

It is an honor to be asked to speak, quite frankly, especially since of three major shifts in my ethos has been finding opportunities to listen.

This opportunity would have never--never--occurred for me had I not started putting myself out there about six or seven years ago. Becoming active in professional organizations, attending workshops and conferences,  making the time to go through the process of becoming a member of the National Writing Project (PAWLP), writing, reading, and reflecting--all things I did not do much of during my first decade of teaching.

All of these changes are connected to listening--or come back to listening. Really listening to the evidence, the research, and other teachers who are engaged with the evidence and the research.

I realized that cocooning myself--in my classroom, in my building, in my district--was not healthy.

I want to invite colleagues to shoot your cuff at Temple University--to join me--to model collegiality, to encourage growth, and to encourage and support one another as we find their own ways of breaking out of the cocoon.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)
shoot your cuff (Peoples' 1875). Make the best personal appearance you can and come along--from the habit of wearing wide cuffs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Irish Draperies & Childhood #sol15

Yesterday, we tried the start of something new.

In small groups--15 each grade--we brought 6th graders and 8th graders together. The objective is to put the 8th graders in a mentoring position.

At least in my classroom, we sat a 6th grader next to an 8th grader and had them introduce each other to the group. The 8th graders said a little something about their outside-of-school life.

A little intimidated, the 6th graders listened silently.

Their advisory teacher gave the group an overview of what we hoped to accomplish--a conversation. He reminded the 8th graders about what a tremendous cultural shift it can be for a 6th grader coming from an elementary school.

To prepare for the meeting, the 6th graders held a pre-meeting and wrote questions on slips of paper, put them in a "hat" and brought them along.

A couple of take-aways from the meeting:

  • our 8th graders really rose to occasion; they took on the role of mentoring seriously
  • it was especially nice to see some kids surprise us and shine in the role
  • a 6th grader asked how stress affects students as they grow through middle school
    • and our 8th graders had responses (this gives me serious pause)
  • another wondered how many honors courses should he take
  • they asked about hours of homework
As a group--and I thought this was pretty cool--the 8th graders sorted out that 7th grade was the toughest year. By the time you get to 8th grade you have pretty much figured out how to avoid the mistakes made in 7th grader: procrastination, managing time, and responsibility.

It seems that the move from 6th grade to 7th grade is the retirement of childhood. Put it in a box and store it in an attic to collect Irish draperies. We just had kids confirm yes, there is stress. Mostly, the sentiment was but you'll figure it out.

The fact that middle school students can have a conversation which includes a dialogue centered on stress--and some not having any free time in their schedules for the next few weeks (honors classes, after-school activities) reminds just how different my elementary to middle school experience was in the late 70s.

I played sports. Took art classes outside of school. I did things. But I also had time to play. I was a city kid--we played half ball, run-to-bases, touch football in the street (amid the traffic!). I certainly didn't stress about school as a twelve year old report cards reflect it! Actually, my experience then matches what our kids reported yesterday--with one major difference.

I was in 6th grade when the roller coaster started...sounds familiar.
First Quarter: Brian has the potential. I hope to see an improvement by next report.
Third Quart: Brian has now found his abilities. I'm proud of him.

Trust me, the roller coaster was only just beginning. But I wasn't stressed by school. And I wasn't really stressed by it in high school either. As a matter of fact, it took until the last semester of my freshman year in college until I started to find my way in school--and started to really enjoy school.

Just this week, locally, a teenager committed suicide over grades--stress--from school. This just happened. This should never happen. Never. Never. Never. I don't remember that as being a part of John Dewey or Horace Mann's grand plan.

I don't have any answers. Just questions.

And a good one to start with is: what are we doing?

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)

Irish draperies (Peoples', England). Cobwebs.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Three Best Weed Killers #sol15

Fearing sounding preachy, I wrote and revised on and off all day and did not hit PUBLISH...until now. I want to share a photo of a former student who is now teaching. The picture showed up on my Facebook feed yesterday and it has led me to chew on one word all day: joy.

So, understand, I am not preaching to you but writing from the heart to myself--writing from a place of joy. Maybe some of you can relate and connect with where I am coming from as I have it out with myself in this post more than having it out with any reader.

The joy of teaching can be choked by weeds if we stop taking care of the garden.

We can all document the who, what, when, where, why of the weeds in education--and we all fatigue from pulling on the weeds. We all have weeds. Weeds are an invasive part of the deal--with gardens and with education. The saddest part about weeds choking out flowers or plants--or teachers--is that another weed soon grows in its vacancy.

If we do no take care of our school, weeds take over.

If we do not take care of ourselves, we are at risk of becoming weeds.

I recommend the following three weed killers. When used liberally and shared with others, hope and joy will grow.

Yesterday's image on Facebook:
Elise's joy--her students' joy--inspires me.
Let Joy Remind Us
When we see joy in education, let it remind us why we got into teaching in the first place.

For example, recently, a former student sent me a connection request on Facebook. Generally, I accept the requests from graduates. Pictures start showing up of this young person--working with smiling, laughing kids. The thing that struck me about the picture was the joy. Joy is everywhere. Joy is infectious in these pictures. I want that joy again.

She writes, "And I love teaching so much, I actually live in Guatemala and work in an orphanage too. Never thought I would be here but I love it."

Become the best teacher, not just the best teacher who works for Such-and-Such Schools
There is a difference. Becoming the best teachers we can be means embracing our role in the profession more than in our buildings. This means spending some time away from the classroom on finding our joy(s) within teaching. Maybe it is connected to our subject or working with young people.

One of the greatest heralds of my joy in education is working with our local National Writing Project--the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP). I love being reminded by the example of retired teachers at the writing project. These teachers did not retire from teaching, they just retired from their buildings. And I love that. They still go to workshops and meet to discuss education. They write and read and share. They teach summer classes to kids and the teach graduate classes to adults. They consult with schools. They mentor one another and they act as if they still have everything to learn.

It is humbling to be around people who love teaching--who never leave the garden unattended.

Realize we can't do it all, but realize we have more to give
Get out of our classrooms. Get out of our communities. Get out of our states. We learn things just by doing. Attending conferences and workshops--visiting classrooms in our own building--it is good for us.

When I was at NCTE this fall, a colleague and I got talking to a many teachers who spend their own money to make sure getting to NCTE happens. Some flew in from the West Coast, the Midwest, from all over. They clearly place a value on getting out and seeing and hearing other people. I learned something about the investment--time, money, energy--it takes to raise oneself up.

In many cases, we have to do this for ourselves. And we have to pull colleagues along with us.

Perhaps cost precludes us. There are other ways--there are free workshops offered in our area. Free EdCamps. Maybe set one day aside a week to read an article in English Journal or Voices in the Middle. Maybe devote fifteen minutes a day to checking out other teachers on Twitter or on the English Companion Ning or read a favorite teacher's blog.

Take the opportunity to write and reflect--in a private journal, or maybe even blog yourself. Maybe blog with a colleague or two. Imagine sharing a blog with several colleagues--a place to share successes and joys and in the classroom--a place to model and reflect about what is good in your class, building, community, world.

Final Thought
When we get to the point where we do not want to do any of these things--or we find easy excuses (i.e. time)--then maybe we have let the weeds take over...and maybe we are not all that far away from becoming, well, weeds. But all is not lost. We can always pull the weeds out and make our gardens right again. We can.

We just have to be willing to start pulling the weeds out.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang

Have out (Peoples', 1860). To hold a frank discussion, verging upon personalities.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dance Loud. Dance Proud. #sol15

Adolf Munzer, Jugend Magazine 1900
In a traffic crawl, I found myself driving behind one of the Gaiety Girls. It surprised me, but got me through the mundane minutes of stop-and-start driving through a bottleneck. All I could see was her dancing silhouette. Both arms flashed overhead--fingers spread wide--shoulders shimmied right and then shimmied back left--and then traffic moved. We rolled several feet, came to a stop, and the show began again.

Three stickers were on the back of her car: 13.1, 26.2, and one dominated by a purple "K" which I recognized as the brand of a local dance studio.

Alone in her car, the girl sat still for a few moments--perhaps the music wasn't right--perhaps she was waiting to be certain traffic was indeed going to sit for a spell. Satisfied, she got up steam and danced again. Like fizzy water bursting from a bottle, her hair lashed with wild, chaotic energy. Her arms came to life. Her joints--elbows, wrists, knuckles--rolled and caught the music.

Traffic rolled ahead again and the giddy young whelp settled down, drove forward, stopped, and danced. The pattern of drive, stop, dance became in itself a dance. It lasted less than a mile--maybe five minutes of inching along--but I told myself yesterday, "Aha, my slice for tomorrow morning."

Here's the kicker to the whole thing: to be certain about the purple "K" sticker, I looked up the dance company I thought it might be. Sure enough, I was correct--KMC Dance.

Care to guess what their motto is on their website?

Dance Loud. Dance Proud.

Which leads me to a news story I found last night on Twitter: Dancing Man Shamed by Bullies. I half stopped to read it because of my Gaiety Girl from earlier in the day, but I really dug in once I saw the cruel image some jackass posted on social media. An obese man in England was publicly shamed by someone on social media because he was fat and dancing. An ugly, ugly moment for humanity.

However, what came of this public shaming is that many people on Twitter sought the man. And now, if you read the article and check out the social media attached to it you will see the beauty of people. Two thousand women in California are flying this man in from London to throw a dance party for him. So many positive messages are being sent to this man and the culminating event will surely be a beautiful symbolic gesture and reminder to anyone who learns of the story.

Read about the #DancingMan. And then share the story with others. It is such a great example of the power of kindness, the power of social media, and the choices we make. People can be really, really cruel--and the cruelty doesn't end in middle school. But people can also be really really beautiful. And that doesn't ever have to end.

Dance Loud.

Dance Proud.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)

Gaiety Girls (Stage, 1890 on). Dashing singing and dancing comedians in variety pieces--from their first gaining attention at the Gaiety Theater.

get up steam (Peoples' 1840 on). Be energetic

giddy young whelp (London 1896). Youth about town.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Favorite Vice #sol15

My wife and I make wine. All red so far: a Malbec-Shiraz blend (which is gone), a Petit Verdot, a Tempranillo, and a Montepulciano (bottled but still not ready).

Yesterday, we popped the first cork on the Tempranillo for dinner. That is a bit of a nerve-wracking and satisfying moment for me. I love the first aromatic trace of the first bottle. Visually, the first pour--the deep red color--of the Tempranillo reminded me of the juice of black cherries.

But what sealed it was when my wife tasted it first and made the noise. A crosshatch of surprise, relief, and pleasure. She nodded and said it was good--maybe even better than the Petit Verdot...which is an awesome grape and makes an easy-drinking wine.

So far, everything we made has tasted great--at least we haven't completely ruined a batch yet. 

We don't share it too much! We've brought bottles to family functions and parties--and it goes fast. We entered a bottle in a local community fair and won a third-place ribbon, but received no criticisms from the judges remarks. All in all, we make some good drinking wine.

And that's why we make it--we make it to drink it. Not stare at it on a wall. Wine is our favorite vice.

Each time we make a batch, it takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months for the process to play out. A six gallon carboy will produce 28-30 bottles each time. We would love to build up our supply, so we often have a batch of something fermenting. However, the build-up of the supply is coming along like a herd of turtles--that's what happens when you drink it.

Neither of us has taken a class. We don't know the vocabulary. We just purchase the supplies, follow the directions, and let chemistry and time work its magic.

And we drink it.

You don't need a degree to drink it and enjoy it.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)

favorite vice (Jovial, 1880). General habitual strong drink.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Europe on the chest #sol15

With the snow day yesterday, I watched a family video.

My maternal roots extend back to Pellaro, Reggio Calabria, Italy. Our family emigrated "from the other side" at the turn of the century. Year by year, more family members sailed to New York from southern Italy. They lived with one another. They ate with one another. They raised children together. I grew up in the house my mother grew up in on a street in Philadelphia where four of the houses were close-knit, extended family. Everything was noisy and crowded and...everyone was together. All the time.

As my mother says, "we thought everyone grew up this way."

In 1992, my cousin, Fred, videotaped a conversation of the senior family members. At the time, our Beppa, 92 years old, sits at the end of the table. Beppa is an Italian derivation for Josephine (Beppo would be the male equivalent). Throughout the video, she breaks off bits of cake and listens to others. Towards the end, which I think I was able to bookmark in the link--Quattrone Family Get-Together 1992--Beppa becomes the focus of the conversation by about the 21 minute-mark. Mostly in Italian. It is just wonderful to watch the joy and love and respect of one another.  Some of the men are in their 70s, an aunt is 69, and the rest are young. And the young sit back and listen.

They ask her questions about Ellis Island--which she can't remember anymore--and she struggles through remembering the names of some of the family members she left behind in Italy so long ago. The years will do that to us. 

What I love about my family is how much they always respected and valued their roots. It wasn't as if they woke up everyday with Europe on their chest but my family always knew where it came from and I think--hope--we still honor our roots today as much as my mentors and models did.

Yesterday, I uploaded the video to YouTube so more of the family can enjoy it. Fred mailed it to me last week. He dug it out after experiencing the great fun of contributing to a family blog. I started one at the start of February--Homemade Ravioli--for family members to share the old stories--keep the old stories alive. It has also been a beautiful way to share photographs.

But back to the of the things that struck me yesterday was how much Italian was spoken around the family as I grew up--and I learned so little of it myself. What a regret! 

It moved me--so much--just to see the people in the video alive again on my screen. It made me regret I didn't see them more, and that I wasn't there for this recording. That little woman at the end of the table, Beppa, lived to be 101. Even though she emigrated here as a farm girl in 1928, she only ever spoke Italian--or very broken English at best--and we all adored her while he had her. That I do know. None of us will ever feel counted short on showing her our love--as you can see if you watch a few moments of the video--and that is as it should be.

For all of us.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)
Europe on the chest (Army). Home-sickness. Used chiefly by soldiers in India, who commit offenses sometimes to be sent home.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dog my cats! #sol15

Victorian market scene. Cart free. What a pleasure!
I am on a crusade.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I had to park between two abandoned shopping carts. It was the only space available. The market was packed--winter storm trundling down on us and whatnot.

Dog my cats every time I pull into the parking lot: shopping carts. 

Is it just my neighborhood, but when did we get so lazy that we can't roll an empty shopping cart back to the storefront? It's on wheels, people. It's empty!

Somewhere within the last decade, food markets pitched in the towel on consumers. Realizing it was too much for us to roll the empty cart back to store for other customers to use, they hired employees to roll long trains of clattering carts back to the front door. All they ask of us is to roll the cart--did I mention it is on wheels?--into designated spaces.

If stores did not do this, we would bitch that we would have to walk back out into the lot--Ugh! can you imagine--to gather up a cart for ourselves. Driving in a food market parking lot is becoming a new hell. It can be a mine field of carts. 

Like beached whales, empty carts lay abandoned--wedged half-up on curbs, straddling lines between spaces, shoved onto mulched dividers--all over the lot. The employees have to gather our carts now too--we can't even roll an empty cart to a designated space. Often, when this lot is especially crowded, cars have to precision-park--steering while trying to avoid the obstacles. And I can imagine some markets have already been plagues by customers wagging their fingers about an abandoned cart scratching the paint on their car.

I am waiting for the sign to be erected: SuperMegaFood is not responsible for abandoned carts damaging any cars. Your shopping experience only ends when you return the cart to a proper location. And I wouldn't blame the store that started that movement.

Maybe we should have to check-in kiosk--our keys for a cart? They can pay a high school kid to watch hold our keys. The cart-for-keys movement would kick ass.

We'd all walk a little more before eating all of that food we just bought.

The abandoned, empty shopping cart--what an ultimate symbol of American laziness. We just load our cars with food--and leave the cart for someone else to roll back to the front doors. 

I'd like to us employ the ASPCA marketing strategy to kickstart this crusade. Maybe a commercial of sad, empty carts littering a lot. Sad music. A gentle voiceover--perhaps a woman we all venerate like Meryl Streep--could say, "Please. Roll your empty carts to the front door or to the designated space. It only takes thirty seconds and you could make all the difference in the world. And be sure to give someone the stink-eye if you catch them not joining in our crusade."

from A Victorian Slang Dictionary (1909)

Dog my cats (Amer.). An example of concealed swearing--God damn my eyes.

Dog my cats if she didn't make a nest of it and make three weeks on  the cuttings! --Newspap. cutting

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Champagne Weather #sol15

While we have not been pounded with the champagne weather like our colleagues in the far North East, three weather days in one week of teaching offers a little-respected must-have in our profession: flexibility and adaptability.

I just received our call for a two-hour delay today. In addition to today, we missed Monday and will most likely be snowed-out tomorrow.

A teacher's development of flexibility and adaptability can't be taught to college graduates as much as it can be learned in the thick of things. Maybe a colleague or mentor can remind us about flexibility and adaptability--but if a teacher doesn't learn it on his/her own then, well, then, good luck with that. You're fighting the wrong fight.

Be a cork in the water.

Part of my adjustment this week includes making sure my students have enough time with me to continue with the drafts and revisions and enough time with me to prepare for a quiz.

With me.

If that means I have to keep pushing due dates and scheduled assessments deeper into March, so be it. Because for as disruptive interruptions can be for a teacher, remember how interruptions impact our students. Even an unexpected announcement over the all-call can knock a lesson--or a student--off the rails for several minutes.

So, as I take time for an extra cup of coffee, I am working right now from home. Working on sorting out the best way I can work with students given the circumstances. Teaching is not a "plug-it-in / mail-it-in" profession. Our daily decisions are too powerful and too life-altering for it to be any other way.

While, the weather inserts itself into our daily considerations, make the best of it. Don't leave it to the thirteen-year-old to figure out alone. And take a breath. And maybe help a colleague nearby who might be looking a little frazzled.

Be a cork in the water...we all know a cork in the champagne eventually pops.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)
champagne weather: (Soc. 1860 on) bad weather--said satirically.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

All his buttons on #sol15

Last night, Bo barked again.

However, this time, the barks didn't stop. Bo sounded the alarm.


I've come to learn the pattern. Bo either needs--NEEDS--to use the outdoor facilities (otherwise he makes his own indoor facility) or Bo knows something is outside.

We live in rural Pennsylvania. Deer, rabbit, owls and hawks, skunks and fox are common. An owl's hoOO-hoOO greeted me from somewhere hidden inside a dark, blustery morning a few weeks back.

But having dogs has made me a man who has all of his buttons on even in the middle of the night. Groggy as I might be, I know to crack the storm door--blocking Bo with my legs--and sniff first.

The smell of skunk.

Bo, utterly crushed, isn't allowed to chase the skunk.
I can't smell it in the house but Bo sure can catch its scent in the middle of a deep, snore-filled, sleep. Closing the storm door and locking up the house I have to tell him, "No skunk. Go to bed." I turn on all of the outdoor lights--skunks don't like light--and light up the room Bo sleeps in until he settles down to go back to sleep.

After an extended moment of showing me how utterly heartbroken he is that he doesn't get to tangle and tumble with a skunk, Bo retires without a fight to a comfortable spot and won't bark the rest of the night.

He transforms from a nervous wreck ringing the call for every able-bodied man to report on skunk-duty into a docile, content family member curled like a comma into a corner of the sofa.

Until the skunk saunters by again a few nights from now.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)

All his buttons on (C. L., 1880 on). Sharp, alive, active, not to be deceived.

He is eighty-three years of age, but as we say hereabouts, has all his buttons on (laughter), and he says, 'I never heard of greater nonsense in all my life.' --Sir W. Harcourt, Speech in Bermondsey, 20th May 1890.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Blue o'clock in the morning #sol15

One of our Labrador Retrievers, Bo, can be a perfect gentleman. He takes treats with the gentlest of touches. He sits and waits patiently for food, or a bone, or to petted. When he comes in from the outside he trots immediately to his dog bed until his paws dry off before he seeks out attention or playtime.

He is a listener. When I let him out and if I smell a skunk nearby, he will immediately come back into the house when I call him. If he gets off his leash, and I yell the command, he immediately lays down and waits for me to hook him back up,

The fur on his head is soft. He has the history of being a rescue lab--we pulled him from a kill shelter in Ohio several years ago.

When he naps, Bo snores like the oceanic crust grinding against the continental crust. Our floor trembles.

Bo is clumsy. The hair between the pads on his paws grows so fast and long that he often slips and tumbles on bumbles on hardwood floors. When he sits waiting for a treat, his paws slowly slide away from his body and you can see him straining to be so good and do what is being asked. The look in is eyes is I can't help what is happening please give me the cookie--fast! I'm going to fall!

So much about him is sweet and good and lovable.

But there is this one thing.

Not so lovable.

Bo can be known to bark me out of a sweet and heavy dream at blue o' clock in the morning. Like he did last night. I'm deep deep deep under the sand and slumber when all of a sudden:


Loud enough to wake Julius Caesar...and Bo is at the other end of the house! He sleeps in the family room. My wife has yelled at him from bed. Each time it is like a full-broadside of 16-inch shells from the USS New Jersey thundering through the house: Bo, go to sleep!

Yet, Bo will do it again in a few minutes.


Until I get up.

When I have, I've let him out in the yard. But he usually doesn't have to do anything. Often he will stand and stare at the door, come back in, lay down, and go back to sleep. If I don't get up he will bark once every fifteen minutes or so until I get up. Just one bark.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bit 'o Jam and Victorian Slang #sol15

My wife is away on a mini-vacation with her daughter. I miss my bit o' jam and can't wait to see her when she gets home.

My WIP (work-in-progress) is an adult historical fiction set in Manchester, England in the 19th century. While researching--looking at maps, reading books such as The Gangs of Manchester, and pouring through photographs--I found a Dictionary of Victorian Slang published in 1909.

While this will be perfect to help me craft dialogue, I am looking forward to the joy in resurrecting some of the slang in my personal and professional life. I know of a colleague or two will have fun with this and I know some of the kids in my classes will get a kick out of it too.

So, my plan is twofold:

  1. I want to try and incorporate a different piece of Victorian slang in each of my Slice of Life blog posts--to help me get better at learning the slang while I continue with my WIP.
  2. On my white board at school, I'll post a new term of Victorian slang each day during the month of March. Like other teachers, I usually post famous quotes or gentle reminders ("What are you reading this weekend?") but I think the change will be good. And fun. Sometimes we have to plan for fun, right?

My first piece of Victorian slang on Monday might be "bit o' jam" which means a pretty girl. 

As in: He always hugs me and calls me his "bit o' jam"...

I am hoping that the Victorian slang experiment can inspire a few fun stories to share on my Slice of Life Challenge blog posts throughout March.

What my Kids Taught Me About Storyboards

A funny thing happened during my two-week digital lesson on creating a one to three-minute video...many of my 8th graders didn't know what to do with a storyboard. By that I mean the physical piece of paper. This completely surprised me. So many looked at the concept of drawing and writing our ideas into a storyboard as...odd. A pointless extra step.

What I learned is that my kids did indeed "storyboard"...just not in the way I envisioned it happening.

Look, I modeled it. I really did. We had several different drafts from which to cull our content. I stood in front of the class a talked through why I was choosing one specific story to tell from all of my writing.

I tried talking about the boxes as snapshots. Think of them as the photographs you are going to lay out in order to show the viewer something specific--sometimes our eyes catch what our ears cannot.

Aside: Maynard Mack, Jr.--then from the University of Maryland--explained, in 1995, The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra this way to me: if you go with your eyes, it is a play about deception...if you go with your ears, it is a play about love.

Then I learned that eyes and ears can work together, but today I wonder how often do we ask students to practice this skill or even give them an opportunity to practice it? Much of what we ask kids to do is to listen and see the same information without much nuance. When young people are absorbers of information or story and not creators of information and story, we lose the nuance.

Listen, I did not plan this epiphany. It just happened as my students stared at the storyboards. And, remember, they were already armed with drafts and revisions from a weeks worth brainstorming and prewriting and drafting. They had content. They just didn't get what or why I was asking them to storyboard on a piece of paper.

About 20% worked with this type of storyboard
Not to be denied, I broke my sample piece of writing down moment by moment within each of the blocks on the storyboard. I even rough-sketched, used stick figures, plugged in words and thoughts, to demonstrate that it did not have to be perfect.

I called it an organizer, a visualizer, a layout, and an outline for my video.

I tried to show them that it was a way to bring words one step closer to merging with the visual aspect of the story.

It didn't matter. So many of them stared at the boxes.

"What [the hell] do I do with these boxes?" they asked.

"Did you gather the pictures you might use?" I asked.

Some students needed to lay photographs into iMovie first before they decided what they needed to write. Drawing it out first just wasn't clicking. However, the act of laying the photos down is in itself a step in the right direction.

Other students needed to just write their script, revise it until it was as close to a polished document as possible. THEN they sought the images needed and only then could they lay them down in iMovie. Again, not sketched-out on a storyboard.

A smaller sample--maybe 20%--actually found the storyboards valuable. They could see and hear their story as they sketched. 

Many just wanted to see their story first or hear their story first. That is the reality of how they worked.

It was still about the writing. It was still about revision.

But it was also about my adjusting to what I was seeing.

And letting the natural storyteller inside each them take over.