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P-180 Growth Garage: Models and Movies


Young writers need models. And while that “need” certainly varies from writer to writer, providing models for our students is one way to help them grow as writers. Some will use them more than others. Some will rely heavily upon them. Others will not use them at all.  Regardless, with the only cost being time, I find them effective means to  help my developing writers.

Above is just a screenshot of the introduction to the model essay. It is the annotated version. At the top is a color-coded key to the necessary elements in the essay. Beyond, the color codes, and not visible in the screenshot, I also offer explanatory annotations through the comment tool in Google Docs. With the use of Google Classroom I can push the annotated model to my kids, providing them with a resource as they work through their own essays.

The essay is a practice opportunity for the students to demonstrate their abilities to critically view a film. As they watched the film, I asked that they view it through the lenses of historical accuracy, point-of-view, and audience impact. The essay puts into play the latter two. The model represents the point-of-view lens. I will also offer an annotated audience-impact model.

Process, then Product. Here is the process we followed for viewing The Book Thief and will continue to follow for the next two movies, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Life is Beautiful.

  1. I introduced the after-viewing guides to give the students during-viewing direction in the form of the three lenses.
  2. We watched the movie in roughly 30-minute segments.
  3. During the segment, each student took notes for the three lenses.
  4. After the segment, students worked in teams to complete the lens-driven viewing guides.
  5. We repeated the process until the completion of the movie. The Book Thief was completed in four segments.

Here I try to find a balance between viewing for the experience of the story and viewing for the critique of the film. To that end, the provided 15 – 20 minute team time at the end is essential. It not only gives the kids time to immediately capture their thinking at the end of the segment, but it also puts a little less pressure on them, allowing them to watch the movie not only for the purpose of the critique but also the story. The opportunity for collective team-time thinking is a must.

Feedback. One film = 90 essays. 3 films = 270 essays. That = insanity. 270 practice essays. Practice is the paramount word. Here is the method in the madness.

  1. I will not read the entire essay.
  2. I will not “score” the essay.
  3. I will look to provide feedback for each kid in one or more of the following strands.
  4. Purpose/Focus, Organization, Evidence/Elaboration.
  5. My feedback will be “this-is-what-I-see-you-need-at-this-moment” suggestions for each writer. I may give John feedback on organization. I may give  Sara feedback on Purpose/Focus and Evidence/Elaboration. It will be personalized to each kid. I will point out at least one “doing well” and one “needs work” within the strands.
  6. I will keep track of trends in each class. And I will use that information to guide my whole-class interventions. For example, I may discover that most kids need support with Organization, and so I will take the time to address that with the entire class. In some cases, the intervention will occur in the form of an invite, my asking kids who received “needs-work” feedback on Organization to join me in a small group intervention.
  7. Now that the kids have feedback, they will get a timely opportunity with the next movie and essay to apply their learning. This is important for growth. Kids have to have the opportunity to circle back.
  8. By the time we have completed the full process, the kids will have had three similar opportunities to grow from practice and feedback, stretching their skills with analysis in a medium that is all too familiar, a medium–like it or not–that is here to stay.

Viewing is a 21st Century Literacy Skill.  Movies in a language arts classroom? Some suggest it is sacrosanct to the literary tradition in an English classroom. I understand that idealized, nostalgic longing for tradition and ceremony. But I also understand the realities of the 21st century, and the various media which better capture and hold the attention of our students. This is the reality. Kids are not reading books. Of course, I am deeply troubled by this. I am a reader–always have been, always will be. And it is a trend that I found both disturbing and disheartening. But it is a trend, an irreversible one. We are not going back now.

Faced with that reality as a high school ELA teacher, I strive, then, to find ways to engage my kids in “literature-based” experiences that better ensure that before our work begins all kids have consumed the content. Far too frequently over the years, I have found myself frustrated that only a handful of kids actually read the novel, despite my valiant, sometimes crazy efforts to motivate them to read. And yet, despite my knowing that many did not in fact read the book, I charge on with the essay, with the project as if they had. With movies, I know with certainty that all kids have consumed the content. Wish beyond wishing, that I could make this happen with novels, but I have yet to find the magic means. In the end, I want my kids to think. We will still read, of course–Night is right around the corner, but we will also watch movies. They, too, can be used to get kids to think critically. And I’m okay with that. As it is, maybe I have to be.

And that concludes this P-180 Growth Garage post. More to come. Have a great weekend.

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