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Records, Wrestling, and a Movie: Project 180, Day 93



Set a record. Oh, nothing that’s gonna win me any awards or anything, but it’s a record I am proud of nonetheless. Of my 112 honors students last semester, 100 finished Night. I am pleased, even proud. But I am more proud that they chose to read it. As I shared in a post back in December Big Kids, Big Choices , I presented the novel as a choice, speaking to the importance that choice plays in commitment, speaking, too, of my having no interest in compliance. And that is how I went on to conduct business. There was no carrot. There was no stick. Kids chose to read it. And the work we did from there honored that choice. And, importantly, it did not dishonor or shame those who chose not to read it. I just found them some alternatives. Of course, I would have loved to have achieved 100% completion, but I didn’t. However, the 90% I did manage, far exceeds anything that I ever accomplished back in the days of “read-the-book-or-else.” I far prefer my “read-the-book-to-grow” approach. Choice. Commitment. Truth. I am proud of my kids’ commitment. Their commitment. All I did was give them a choice.

That path is now behind us; however, as we continue to explore and examine the Holocaust, we will no doubt draw from Elie’s story as we seek truths about the human experience from this dark chapter in our history. Today, we venture down a new path, with a different medium. Today, we will begin viewing The Book Thief. Well, we actually started down this path two days ago, reading the final chapter from the book version of The Book Thief, setting the stage not only for the movie, but also for exploring the larger question of using movies in the ELA classroom, a question that is often debated in and out of the schoolhouse. Yesterday, I gave my kids a chance to chime in. Here’s how I did it.

I presented three claims.

Books are better than movies.

We should not fictionalize the Holocaust.

We should not use movies to teach content in language arts.

I then asked the kids to affirm, negate, or qualify my claims (I used this opportunity to introduce our work with argument this semester, too). This, then, created the platform for our discussion. It took nearly all period, though that was not the plan. I figured it would take us about twenty minutes, and we would get the movie underway, but it turned into an honest, open, thoughtful, wide-ranging discussion about books, movies, kids, adults, society, technology, and learning. The best part? I listened. Oh, I helped move the discussion along, but the kids took the reins, speaking their truths, sharing their wisdom. Our discussion concluded with my asking them to step into my shoes, to become English teachers for a moment and consider the implications that our discussion had on our “shared” position. The kids picked up on what I hoped they would, that my deciding to use movies to teach content was no lightly-made decision. And it’s not. It is something that I wrestle with constantly. But in that “wrestling,” I have found some relief from including the kids in the conversation. Kids. They really are pretty smart. We need to give them more credit.

And with that we will set to work today with the movie. Work. We are not watching the movie to be entertained. We are watching the movie to learn. Like any vehicle, movies, with the right driver behind the wheel, can move kids down a path of learning. Here is the viewing guide we will use with the movie.

Of course, in an ideal world, I would only use books to drive my kids’ learning. But we live not in an ideal place. There are many realities that disrupt our ideals. And I am still wrestling with that. Still trying to find better. Better. Always better.

My Room Update

As many know, I have begun pushing a movement on Twitter, #myroom. With it, I am trying to encourage and challenge my fellow educators to maximize their in-the-room power, considering first and above all how they want kids to feel in their rooms, their worlds. Recently, along with my #myroom poster, I created #myroom comment cards for my kids as a way for them to let me know how I am doing, how they feel. Got my first two back yesterday. Wanted to share.

This one from Isabella warms my heart, for it lets me know that she knows. Means everything to me.

This one from Violet reminds me of how I need to adapt if I am going to create a space where all kids feel connected. Words matter. Pronouns matter. I will get better at this. All kids.

Today’s Trail

Along today’s trail we will…

…begin with Smiles and Frowns.

…begin viewing The Book Thief.

…end with a Sappy Sy Rhyme.

Happy Thursday, all.

Do. Reflect. Do Better.



2 Replies to “Records, Wrestling, and a Movie: Project 180, Day 93”

  • Monte,

    I appreciate your three claims. They are great discussion startes.

    I want to challenge your notion of the perfect world. We live in a media rich culture and I believe it is not only essential to promote text-based literary but media literacy as well. ELA is about communication and film is another medium for communication. One of the best, and most challenging classes I took on college 20 some years ago was a film theory class.

    Any way, food for though, my friend.

    • Thank you for the challenge, Aaron. My claim about the notion of an ideal world was not supposed to be as sincere as it may seem. It was presented, though maybe too subtly–or poorly (now that I reread it), as an attack on the notion that education needs to exist in nostalgic stasis (especially when it comes to the novel in our ELA classrooms), despite the dynamic world around it, which as you suggest is a media-rich culture, a culture that is ever changing and growing, a culture that we need to adapt to. Again, thanks for pushing me to clarify my position. I always appreciate the thought food you serve up.

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