Some sweet rock lady bugs Rebekah and I made. Found the stones in the park and painted them with brushes. Reminded me of something my Grandfather Forest would have done.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
-The Monkey’s Paw
Kids today are smart, smarter than I was at their age. They've seen thousands of movies, T.V. shows, and news clips. They download graphic material and steal freely off the Internet. In fact, they basically have world at their fingertips. I mean, how does the modern teacher instruct a room full of kids with iPhones in their laps?
It's tough. Earlier this year my students created this chat room to post live comments during a lecture that I projected on the board. It was our most lively discussion, full of insight and constant attention. The only problem was, it had nothing to do with the lecture, because the comments followed these linear joke threads that started and basically derailed the class. Still, it was a great exercise for continuing a discussion on student concentration and in-class focus.
I've done things similar to this, flirted with class blogs and posting comments... we even did a few Facebook homework assignment K-W-L's... it's cool and students enjoy it. But in Taiwan, parents are so deathly afraid of computers most don't allow their children to use them. Rather, they lock them into classrooms memorizing math answers until 10 p.m. so when kids finally get home, they are too exhausted for any kind of meaningful post-class exchange.
So lately I've been returning to old teaching tricks, tried and true methods that work... and that's drawing pictures of stories. Yes, it's reading with a pencil time again, kids!
The assignment is simple... we read, we laugh, we stop to think about what we just read and visualize it in our minds... then we draw it in cartoon boxes... using the most important quote from the passage as a caption. It works. It slows students down. Relaxes them. Forces thoughtful expression (yes, forces!) but also begins the conversation about ruminating and meditating about what one has just read that is still swimming around in their brains.
Wait, Hartenstein... are you trying to get these kids to meditate? Are you asking them to read something and then close their eyes and show it to you? But that's so boring... so traditional... so slow... can't we just download an app and draw it on our phones? No... get some colored pencils. Draw me something for real!
Well, as you can see... for W.W. Jacob's The Monkey's Paw, a story whose ending most kids see coming two pages in...this kind of picture drawing works... works for me too!
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
"That's right, huh... you're tough? You're hard?" I bait him a little. I've been looking through kids like this for years. Kids that are given everything and never told to work. Trust fund morally bankrupt zombies, thrill seekers at other's expense... say and do anything without consequence... I know his type inside and out.
Now who's looking through who?
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Check out the latest hartensteinabroad episode as I take two day trips outside the city of Mandalay Burma, made famous by Rudyard Kipling. The first is across the river to Mingun Paya, the second through dusty streets to UBien bridge, the longest teakwood bridge in the world. Enjoy!
Friday, April 20, 2012
Took a break from the Fitzgerald and stood in class today looking out the window over the small buildings and the banyan trees, the sky overcast and pouring thunderous rain in windy sheets as the students read aloud. Their voices dim and muted, echoing behind like some memory long gone while I wonder about the rain.
My friend from when I was a little boy told me a story this week about walking the long roller coaster road up Gray's Hill into the gravel beyond Dooghie past the one room school house with the clown on the door, getting caught out in the rain under an old evergreen. One and only time her Dad had to come get them on a walk in the warm truck with the heat cranked up. She still remembers.
Everyone has stories about rain.
Here in Taiwan tonight we ordered a pizza and sat on the floor putting Lego houses together. The little fingers and hands of my girls so perfect for these button sized pink plastic flowers and swing sets and fence posts and window sills. Lego's have come a long way since I was a boy.
Memory washes us clean. In the end, it's all we have.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
(The picture above was organized by students Jenny and Vivian after showing them the Kony 2012 video phenomenon in class, and I don't care about that dude's egg cracking or the shameless self promotion... I don't care! You two girls are my silver lining.)
When the students enter class the desks are stacked against the wall. They are directed to stand in a circle in the center of the room. Rules are written on the chalkboard in white. Everyone is to wait for their name to be called, then one by one step to the middle of the class and draw a slip of paper from the black box, hold it tight in their hand, and do not open until told.
Predictions are made. Wagers placed. Nervous energy surges. “What’s the prize? A bar of chocolate? He’s given us Hersey bars before. Maybe the winner gets McDonalds? Some teachers do that, you know?”
Sometimes I even play music. Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in G minor ‘La Notte’ is succinct and pulsing. Perfect as one by one they draw their slips from the box.
It’s a funny exercise. Students here are not used to creative activities in class, and over the last few years I’ve thrown all kinds of things at them: ‘Mock’ Salem Witch Trials, Obstacle Courses, Scavenger Hunts, Thoreau Walden Solo Camping Trips, Greek Myth Charades, Short Satire Film Projects, Interview an Elder Documentaries, once we even cleared all the desks and chairs out of the room and practiced basketball drills on the fifth floor before a rival game. That was actually really cool!
I don’t tell them we’re going to kill the winner. I just let it unfold. Draw the slips, find the black dot, read the story aloud, let them see if for themselves. Sometimes, you just have to force kids to go through it so they know. Then they see... exactly what we do to each other for nothing.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
I tell the kids it doesn't matter what he choose, which direction his princess lover led him to... whether she thought to grant him happiness or kill him off so that no woman could have him... what really matters, is what the story says about you.
Oh... they weren't having it! Not by a long shot. This story sent them upside down, these young 7th grade kids demanded to know... what did he choose.
I'm not budging either... imagination is much stronger than reality... and the classroom is the perfect magical place for this discussion.
Instead, I tell them how marvelous it is that someone wrote a short story, just put words down on the page, that were so powerful they actually had a physical effect on someone... that the kids were actually furious over this story, livid... that they felt punched in the face... and even more angry that I said it was good.
That's what art should do to us... it should hurt sometimes... and believe me, do you know how hard it is to convince this to thirteen year old kids who live off junk food and stay up all night playing video games...? Yeah, impossible.
But that's life, isn't it? There is never a clear answer, never a true path without some kind of pesky thorn patch to cut up our shins... but whatever you believe... hope or depravity... I wish you well in your choice.