Monday, December 10, 2007

This is our future, America

Today I had projects due in both my English classes. (Our school is block schedule so I teach only three classes a day for 95 minutes each. The third class is yearbook.) First period was supposed to create a play that could be a deleted scene from The Crucible. So they had to imagine a scene that could have been in the play but wasn't and perform it for the class.

Four groups. One forgot their play so they got up and did an interpretive witchcraft dance, which although not the assignment was still pretty hilarious. One group got up, had their play written out, copied and followed the assignment perfectly. One group didn't have their presentation because the one person who had the only copy of the play failed to appear. I told them that would happen. The fourth group didn't even try. When I asked them for their play they shrugged. They spent three days gossiping while reassuring me constantly that they did indeed have a plan. They did not have a plan.

As you can imagine, I was disappointed.

But no matter, because my second period would be presenting their hero projects and that would definitely not suck because I gave them three weeks and constantly checked on them and helped them understand their stories. And they know what a huge part of their grade this is so they'd get it right. Right?

Seven groups each got a hero in literature. They had to read the book and present the story to the class in a creative way, then explain a little about the culture in which the story was created, then explain how the hero of the story follows the monomythic hero's journey.

Group one (Oedipus) had nothing. The person who had their entire play failed to appear. I told them that would happen. This is the lazy group, hence the reason I gave them the easiest topic, so I kind of expected nothing to come of it.

Group two (Iliad) had their video ready to go. It was shot beautifully and well edited and at the end I was eager to learn who the director had been. It was the most sweet yet lazy, useless giggly girl in the whole room. I was amazed and impressed and then annoyed. I wonder if she realizes how much she'll need to understand literary interpretation when she's a filmmaker? I'd hate for her to waste her talent because she never wanted to read a book. Maybe this project will wake her up. But even thought they had a great video in black and white of the kids in togas fighting each other, Group Two didn't discuss the hero's journey and paid very little attention to the history.

Group three (1001 Nights) shot their movie on a crappy digital yearbook camera and recorded it onto the yearbook Mac laptop (three of the girls in the group are on my yearbook staff) and expected all 37 of the students in the class to gather round the laptop and watch their video. Except the sound doesn't work. So they couldn't show their movie.

Group four (Faust) had a great quiz made up but no presentation whatsoever. During the THREE WEEKS I gave them to work on it they kept reassuring me they had a plan. They did not have a plan. I'm not sure what kind of miracle they thought would occur when they stepped in front of the class, but it failed to appear. I told them that would happen.

Group five (Don Quixote) did have their video. It was funny and had some clever editing moments but didn't include any hero's journey information or anything about the history. It was also fairly obvious that they hadn't cracked the book, but managed to watch the movie very carefully.

Group six (The Aeneid) was missing 3/5ths of its members. The girl who had the finished video was one who failed to appear. I told them that would happen. But one of them had an unedited version so they popped that in an we watched it. They used dolls and tiny army men to tell the story and it was funny even though nobody in the room had a clue as to what the hell was going on. The video camera was so old it looked like stop animation and it was kind of red. No hero's journey, no history. At this point I was beginning to cry.

Group seven (Song of Roland) was saved by the bell. They were the group that worked the hardest during the three weeks of preparation so I think - and hope against hope - they'll do okay tomorrow. They're doing a puppet show. Interesting, since in high school I had done a puppet show on The Song of Roland that was really well organized and beautiful and had a soundtrack because I get way too into projects and feel like I have to one-up everybody else. Anyway, I hope their project doesn't suck.

I'm taking home the three videos I watched today to see them better and give a more accurate grade. Maybe after I take a closer look I won't want to stab myself with a spoon.


  1. I'm curious -- are there consequences for shanking an assignment so badly? It seems you're in a no-win situation with this: if you smack them down for failing to do even a half-assed job, then you give them ex post facto justification for not trying harder. If you cut them slack, you just deny them any chance to learn what opportunities they've pissed away.

    This is why I would never teach -- my first instinct would be to grab some sort of club and get medieval on some precious young minds.

    I here that's not the way they do things any more.

    Damned shame-- progress.

  2. and feel free to correct that damned typo ("here") in the last line and then toss this comment

    Or not.


  3. Never! Your typo will live on forever and ever....

    Actually I don't think blogger lets me correct typos in the comments.

    As to your question, if they don't do the assignment they don't get a grade. I tell them this repeatedly.

    But really it's all about the rubric. When they started to work I gave them a list of project requirements and how many points each item is worth. If they don't include the hero's journey, for example, that's worth 20 points. So if they have everything else the grade is an 80. If they do a half-ass approach to it I give them 10 points so the grade is a 70.

    It makes it easy for them to know their expectations and easy for me to grade.

  4. Emily, you've got to explain the missbehaving cat. What's up with that? You should post on why this cat acts so bizzare. (I just showed my aunt your latest cat with caption picture, and my aunt, the practicing saint, laughed.)

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  5. Since most inner-city youths are stuck in hip hop land change some of the names to Tupac, 50 Cent and PDiddy (or Cuban Link for the spanish ones). I couldn't teach high school nowadays.

  6. Part of me wants to rail against these kids, but then I remember that if you substitute "Hero's Journey" for calculus problems, I was the same way. Of course, I didn't study because it felt like a foreign language to me (naturally making it even harder for myself to do well--yay for lazy defiance), but that's no excuse. Especially when I would actually answer questions on tests with Spanish words because it seemed better than "What the fuck?" and funnier than leaving blanks.

  7. My kids aren't Cuban. They're Mexican or Salvi mostly.

    And most of the ones who did the reading eventually understood it. I helped them whenever they asked for it.

    The reason some of them are lazy is that they've been socially promoted since Kindergarten. Nobody ever made them do homework and all their parents care about is whether or not they behave themselves. Plus, nobody at home can help them because most of their parents don't speak English.

  8. So - whatever happened with Group Seven, your great hope for the class?

  9. Cuban Link is a spanish rapper. I more so meant give them something they can relate to for the structure and then change the content.

  10. Group seven had technical difficulties. They have a tape with their performance on it but no way to play said tape for the class.

    The 1001 Nights group did an okay project. It was funny and it told one of the stories where I had told them they needed to do more than that, and they didn't bring up the hero or the background at all.

    But it was funny.

  11. I think social promotion has to be one of the dumbest idea ever put to use by any public school system. Kids are there for some social benefit, sure, and want to remain with the friends in the same grade - but the idea is primarily for them to LEARN, and too many people have forgotten that. Sure, maybe some kids were "emotionally scarred" by being left behind before social promotion, but with plenty of teacher and parent involvement (yeah, I know, the parents are often all but nonexistent, expecting the kids to learn everything from you and to leave them out of it), then I'd think getting left back a grade would be an adequate wake-up call for your typical social-climber that he or she needs to buckle down and work. Teens like to get away with what they can (didn't we all?), and by expecting so little, they have the lowest possible hurdle to surpass - and sometimes don't even reach quite that high because the think they can get away with it. We give them too little credit, and expect next to nothing from them, and going to college becomes a ridiculous hurdle because (gasp) they're actually expected to finally work for a good grade and won't get away with simply behaving and showing up once in a while. Building study habits that late in the game becomes next to impossible, and the kid gets, at most, a high school diploma not worth the paper it's printed on.

    Sorry for the rant, but it's so ridiculous for a institute of learning to just toss learning aside in favor of accepting a much lower standard, like the ability to simply keep a seat warm. It's even more ridiculous for parents to abdicate all responsibility for their child's learning to any institution, opting for little to no involvement as their kid floats by, grade to grade, on autopilot.

  12. Song of Roland is one of my all-time favorites from antiquity.

    How did that go?

    --new guy

  13. They did a puppet show and filmed it. It was funny and they followed the story a little more clearly than the other groups, but still no hero's journey. I think the kids aren't used to being asked to think for themselves.


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