Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's Not Shakespeare But...

Our musical made the state news this morning. Here's the link to five of the segments. I'm not sure how the videos are sorted, but I believe you can look it up by date (3/27/07) or keywords (try "Kennedy" or "Honk").

Since the broadcast began at 5:56 am and it was followed by two elementary school shows (over 1800 kids came to those - we have a huge auditorium), I'm quite exhausted right now. Only four more shows to go!

Out of curiosity, what musicals do your schools do? And, while we're at it, how many performances, how much are tickets, and how much do you spend on production? (I've been having "discussions" with my principal - can you tell?)


Man caught with 93 pounds of stolen underwear!

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) - A man who reportedly said he has "a problem" was charged with theft and burglary after police said they found 93 pounds of women's panties, brassieres and other underwear at his home in this college town. Investigators believe Garth M. Flaherty, 24, took as many as 1,500 undergarments from apartment complex laundry rooms before he caught, police Cmdr. Chris Tennant said.

Dave? Is your friend living in Washington now??

Friday, March 23, 2007

Job stuff

Okay, so things are picking up (finally) with the job search. I'm spending my spring break flying across the world... I'm going to visit a KIPP school in Oakland (by Kim!), then I'm flying out to North Carolina to interview at Meg's school. Neat, huh? I don't know if I'd actually move across the country, but it's worth a look-see.

I also just heard from a KIPP school here in LA. It's an English position, but they said they were excited about my Theatre background, so....

After months of stress about whether or not I'll find anything, these little possibilities are very, very refreshing. Any advice you guys can offer about picking a school, etc would be welcome.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

From Hinton To Hamlet*

It seems my function in our English Department is that of chief software/website/methodology book test pilot. I have about 3 discs and that many books to peruse so I can share my thoughts with the Department.

It's because of this job that a copy of From Hinton To Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and The Classics landed on my desk (and here is where I offer my apologies, because it's presently on my desk at school and I am on Spring Break. I promise to update this entry with more content when I get back into my classroom...). I seriously was able to read it in the time it took to get a pedicure and am very taken with some of the ideas in the book...

  • The book begins with the basic premise that many of the kids in our classes who aren't readers today were at one time. Their interest, the book claims, decreases when the choice of books they read is no longer theirs.
  • Student interest in books is killed through book choices that seem irrelevant, and through those required vocab lists and comprehension questions. Telling students the theme of the story, it argues, is nothing compared to a student discovering and identifying with a theme.

Sound familiar? Most of the book is a series of lists with suggestions for a ton of YA fiction that links thematically to the canon of HS literature as we know it. There's probably ten books for each of the Shakespearean plays that are generally studied along with novels like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. I'll share some of those lists later either here or via email, let me know if you're interested.

The approach the book advocates is a sort of guided independent reading. The teacher has, say, three copies each of ten or so books for a class and the students respond to the books through Reader Response Journals and Literature Circles. Then we experience the "classic work" together, noting the similarities in theme. I'm very excited at the possibility of this sort of activity paired with all we learned last Summer.

So I'm interested in your thoughts here.

  • First, have any of you had luck with Reader Response or Lit Circles? What advice would you give before I begin the projects? Are there other strategies that lend themselves well to a class reading several novels at once?
  • Second, there's always funding to worry about. I'm nearly positive I could get a grant my district offers, but I'd apply for it next school year and wouldn't get the books until the following year. That's just too long for me! Are any of you aware of other funding sources that would get me about 100 copies of YA novels?

I'd really love your ideas here, let's call this your check in!

*This seems to be a requirement for all the NITS-ers in "fly-over" country, so I'll say it here: SE Hinton? From Oklahoma.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Conversation of the day

Kid #1: We're reading Julius Caesar in English now.

Me: Oh, yeah? Let me know if you need any help. I played Cassius last summer.

Kid #2: You played Cassius?

Me: Yes.

Kid #2: CLAY?!

Mr. Punch... again...

Even if you can't come to the show, take a gander at the trailer:


Friday, March 16, 2007


My principal informed me today that she's doing my annual observation on Monday. Now, I don't like this woman and she doesn't like me, and I'm a little worried that she'll screw me on my evaluation. I considered doing some old lessons that I've done for observations in the past, but I kind of feel obligated to show her exactly what we did at NITS, and what I would have done at the month-long intensive, so I think I'm doing Sculpture Garden.

I usually start with walking with text images (butterflies in your stomach, song in your heart, etc.) before having them pair up for Sculpture Garden. The thing is, there's really not enough room for 27 kids to do Sculpture Garden all at once, so I usually split them into two groups. Group One works while Group Two sits, then they switch.

I really need a way to get the sitting group involved. Asking for feedback about what they saw is fine, but I think the sitters should probably be writing something (the problem with Sculpture Garden is that there's no clear evaluation or assessment). Merely having them describe how a kid's arm position showed "power" or "terror" or "parting is such sweet sorrow" kind of seems like pointless busy work. Any ideas?

I'm also considering Building a Sonnet, but I'm worried that it takes too long to get to the payoff and my principal will only be there for 45 minutes, but if you've got a compelling reason why I should do Building a Sonnet instead, I'm all ears.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beware the ides of March...

I find this hugely entertaining:



Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Class plays

My current school has trimesters, each one twelve weeks long. I've been spending the first six weeks of each trimester on a variety of activities (Sculpture Garden, Building a Sonnet, Status, etc.). Depending on how the classes behaved and responded to the work, I spent the second six weeks of each trimester on public speaking assignments or a class play.

In the first trimester I did Henry V with three of my four classes, and in the second trimester I did Midsummer with only one of my classes. I cut the plays to less than 40 minutes in length, and split up the parts like we did for Julius Caesar. No student had more than 50 lines of text to learn.

The classes that did the plays were kind of lukewarm to the whole experiment. They liked that they weren't stuck with public speaking stuff, but they were never really invested in the play. There was simply too much down time for each student. I could work two or three scenes in a class period, which means I only worked with less than half of the students on any given day. I used feeders to try to get the rest involved, but many are poor readers or ESL and didn't like to feed, so a lot of them sat around every day getting bored.

I'm three weeks into the last trimester, so I need to start figuring out what to do for the last six weeks. I predict that two of my classes will respond well to the short scene work we're doing next week, so those two will do class plays at the end of the year. My question is, how do I get the students to be more invested in the work?

So far this year I haven't started with reading the play as a class or doing a lot of character and plot analysis because I didn't want my Communication Applications class to seem like an English class (no offense to the English teachers, I'm just playing the "this class should be totally different from your other classes" card to encourage students to take more risks). I've been casting the shows and diving right into scene work to keep the kids from being scared of the language, but now I'm questioning that tactic.

I'm also unsure of the splitting of roles. It keeps kids from having roles of wildly different lengths, but I think it makes them stop thinking of their character as THEIR character. If I didn't split the roles, I'd have to choose a play with at least 27 speaking roles, which eliminates most of the comedies. Also, a kid playing the lead would have forty times the lines of Messenger #3, which hardly seems like the right thing to do. On the other hand, my best class currently has a refugee of the theatre department who doesn't like the new theatre teacher, and he could totally tear up a leading role. It's not in his best interest to make him share the role with five other kids, but it's not in the best interest of the rest of the class to have him carry the show while them merely support him.

So what do you think I should do? Split, or not split? Study the play before rehearsing, or no? Should I try Henry V or Midsummer again, or should I try something new, like Macbeth?

The newest Rogue show

If anyone's in LA from April 27-May 27, let me know and I'll hook you up with tickets.

See the trailer here.

The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch is based on a Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean comic book. It's about a man remembering his childhood at his grandfather's sea side arcade. We understand that his grandfather was not a nice man, but through the boy's eyes there is only a surface understanding of events.

The set design is beautiful, the original music is great, and I'm working on it! What other excuse do you need to come to the Golden State?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire
by Rafe Esquith

Fabulous, fabulous book. I can barely put it down. And could the title be more perfect for us NITSers?