Time for a story: The Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Joseph Bathanti, came to speak to my 9th grade English class last semester. He’s actually leprechaunish, not in the way that he wears green and giggles behind trees, but in the way that he has the gifts of words hugged in his pockets. Bathanti has done a lot of work in NC prisons, getting inmates to learn the art of creative writing, and I can only assume, with that, journaling. He is probably one of my favorite speakers to ever enter my classroom and I appreciated him so much because he actually cared what my student’s answers were. He asked them to write three things that they wished for themselves in the world and encouraged me to participate. For a day, it was good just to feel like a student in my classroom, starring at my Smartboard in the diagonal rows, cramped into the tight desk, only one side open, and feeling the slight breath of the students behind me. What I wrote was that I hope my future students are read to as children, not because they’ll be better writers and readers for me, but because my mother reading stories to me is one of the best memories that I have as a child. My mom would scoot me into bed and pretend to sardine me in as she tucked the blanket under me like she was folding dough. To this day as a twenty-five year old woman, I still request that my mother read a Christmas story to me on Christmas Eve.
I have no children so I can’t make an informed answer to this, but I can imagine that reading to your children is one of the best things to experience as a parent. A child’s forehead is huddled below your chin, and you open the first page and they point one tiny finger to their favorite part of the picture. My brother and nephew have a song for when a book has “crazy art” and my nephew will start singing, “Craaaaazzzyyyyyy art, crazzzzyyyyy art.”
So this week in class, I’m reading a children’s book to my students. Instead of having them focus all their brain power on what they’re reading and not on what I want them to do with that reading, I’m going to read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and they’re going to create Bloom’s Taxonomy questions. (I found out about this story in Literacy Training this week called Keys to Literacy – LOVE IT). We will then talk about morality vs. legality and when and where they don’t match or do match. It’s the discussion and the writing that I want my students to learn, not the reading. However, this is one of my new favorite children’s books. It’s a story of a man who walks a tightrope between two towers. It’s just a sweet story with skies of illustrations and lends really well to that structure standard for ninth graders (RL5) because the author really does well with placing the pictures strategically as well as the paragraphs.
“We’re starting from the bottom, now we’re here” in Drake’s words. I think in education sometimes we focus so hard on how hard the student focus should be. Our students should be learning calculus in second grade so they can compete with the rest of the world, only to find out that aliens were born with calculus imbedded into their antennas and so we’re further behind than we ever expected. BAH! I’m just not sure how much I agree with the push towards so much information at each age. The books that I read in upper grades are being dropped lower and lower until the students won’t be able to handle the content on a maturity level. With that being said, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers brings big concepts in a small books. It goes with the phrase, “good things come in small packages.”
I do want to say that this book can open a great history lesson at any level, elementary math lesson and obviously any grade English lesson. Sometimes, it’s the text that can be simple and lovely, and the lesson is complicated. The children’s book will open our discussion on morality and legality and the differences between the two. The evaluating question of the unit will be, “How are moral and legal wrongs different, and did Philipe do anything morally wrong, why or why not?” There’s a good morality lesson on SAS Curriculum Pathways that I’ll be using for my students to create their own definition of morality so that they can adequately judge the story. I would tweak this lesson before using it for any teachers that want to get on SAS.
The next thing that I really want to talk about is using podcasts in your classroom. I haven’t actually used podcasts that often other than 3 Minute Fiction on NPR and listening to Neil Gaiman read. However, today I was listening to Radio Lab and the show was called, “Of Man and Myth.” They had this really awesome discussion of Alan Turing who was arrested in England for public indecency in 1952 and was forced to take large doses of estrogen to “cure his homosexuality.” However, this is not what he should be remembered for AT ALL. This man actually helped decode German ciphers for the British government during WWII. He was the first man to decode the ciphers (he used a machine) and therefore an integral part of the allies trump over Germany.
I was shocked that this fascinating mathematician was known mostly for his homosexuality rather than his influence in winning the World War for the allies. This is an aspect of WWII that my students may never know and a person that has an interesting biography for class discussions during a unit on WWII. In 9th grade, we read Night by Elie Wiesel. It makes memories of the horror of the Holocaust on every read through. I show them the clips from Band of Brothers of the moment when American soldiers happen on the concentration camps. I show them clips of Elie Wiesel speaking and we read all kinds of informational texts about the World War. The thing that we don’t do is look specifically at people other than Elie Wiesel. I fear that my students may think that there were more survivors than there were. Maybe they don’t listen hard enough when Oprah says that Auschwitz was more than 15 miles large. Using this twenty-minute segment from Radio Lab, my students won’t be just discussing aspects of WWII, but this man was arrested for being homosexual just seven years after WWII. We just got through this mass genocide on specific groups of people, and yet the people who helped end that injustice were still unable to have equality in their own country. SHOCKING. The truly disturbing thing about this whole story is that Turing ended up killing himself due to his unhappiness after the arrest and estrogen treatments. This story just adds more deaths over a lack of empathy, lack of kindness, and pure ignorance.
Read a letter from Alan Turing signed “Yours in Distress” about his legacy here.
Lastly, Amy @ Lucy’s Football (and a writer for Insatiable Book Sluts) sent me a link to this SUPER COOL artist’s website. Seriously, I’m dying. If this isn’t the coolest thing to use with Persepolis or Maus, I’m just not sure what is. For every teacher that was told they can’t teach graphic novels because they’re not actually literature, then teach graphic poetry from Julian Peters Comics. It’s great for any English/History lesson. You can teach modernism with her J. Alfred Prufrock, or Southern Gothic with Annabel Lee, or have students read the poems and then analyze the graphic novel (graphic poem) which is great for RL7. Teachers could have them create their own graphic novel of the poem. They could have to include historical elements, elements of that period of writing, humor, figurative language, characteristics of characters, theme through images. I just adore Julian Peters’ art and I love that it can be transformed into the classroom. Obsessed with the wrinkles in Prufrock’s forehead as their shaped like eastern rivers which always make me think of sadness. They way that they flow down America and probably have a stone throw of history in each curve. The “women talking of Michelangelo” have their hair in tight curls, wrapped in rags the night before, and they shove their palms up in speech as if they’re always asking for a handout. Yes, Julian Peters, you’re my hero.
YAY! Share your plans with me as they come to you because I’m always looking for collaborations with other teachers. This competitive pay in NC isn’t going to stop me from sharing, and learnin’ these beautiful little pieces of future that we teach.