tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Away from my Desk 2017-07-15T21:52:46Z Alec Patton tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1173862 2017-07-15T21:52:46Z 2017-07-15T21:52:46Z How the Hell did it Come to This? A Reading List


How the Hell The Right Came to This

"How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind" by David Wong (Cracked.com October 12, 2016) - the title is classic misleading clickbait. This was one of the most insightful pieces I read during the campaign. The fact that it was published on the online platform of a Mad Magazine ripoff boggles my mind.

"The Great Republican Revolt" by David Frum (The Atlantic, January/February 2016) - this was written over a year ago, and it was one of the first pieces I thought about after Trump won. Basically its about the difference between Washington conservatives and the Republican base. 

"Why Nobody Cares the President is Lying", by Charles Sykes (New York Times, February 4th 2017) - Charles Sykes is a former conservative radio host who saw the way conservative media was changing from the inside. 

"Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology" by David Roberts (Vox, May 19th 2017) - This is an analysis of why facts don't matter much at the moment.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter (The Atlantic, 1964) - this is over fifty years old, but Hofstadter nailed it.


How the Hell the Left Came to This

"How the Left Lost Its Mind" by McKay Coppins (The Atlantic July 2, 2017) - an account of the left's own hyperpartisan, conspiracy-obsessed media landscape. The writer makes it clear that it's dwarfed by its counterpart on the right, but it still exists and it's not good. Also the graphic (a tinfoil pussy hat) is pretty clever.

"Fairfax County, USA" by Matt Karp (Jacobin, November 28 2016) - an analysis of the Clinton campaign's unfortunate strategy of winning the presidency by appealing to wealthy, college-educated moderates




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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1152352 2017-05-07T21:14:40Z 2017-05-07T21:15:06Z When I found my words on someone else's website. A story a tweet and two emails

I demonstrated Turnitin.com to my students by submitting a draft chapter I was writing for a book about project-based learning. 

This wasn't a great move: the submission lit up like a Christmas tree with incidents of "plagiarism" - most of it was self-plagiarism, because I had copied chunks of previous work into the doc to use as guides. 

But a few lines all came from a South African education website, all from a post about project-based learning. The lines all looked familiar - I double-checked, and sure enough, they all appeared in the book I wrote in 2012, Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning.

I did this sleuthing during class, while my students were posting their own papers on Turnitin, waiting for their results, and comparing scores. 

A few of my students were fascinated by my unfolding plagiarism drama. One student documented this sleuthing, and tweeted it:

It took a day before I wrote the "strongly worded email". Here's what I wrote:

Hi _________


I was looking at a post from Schoolnet SA, and I recognized some of the material in it from Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning, which I wrote for the Innovation Unit in 2012 (for example, in the list of essential questions, and the information about check-ins).

Work that Matters is a free resource, and it's great to see it being used around the world. I also know it's been used in lots of other resources, not always with credit, so it's entirely possible that you've never seen it before! 

I'd be grateful if you could acknowledge as a source on the page.

All the best
Alec
A few days later, I got a reply:
Hi Alec

Thanks so much for writing and apologies for not replying sooner. 

Thanks for pointing out the resource Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning. What a superb booklet - your writing ability is excellent. I don't recall seeing the booklet before but I wrote the post a few years back. I apologise profusely for not acknowledging your resource (or the resource where I took it from). How embarrassing! I have now acknowledged your resource, hopefully in the appropriate places. Thank you very much for pointing this out so pleasantly.

Warm regards

The page in question has been updated. So, happy ending!

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1149502 2017-04-26T12:53:42Z 2017-04-26T12:53:42Z The tension between “personal” authenticity and “real world” authenticity


It's surprisingly difficult to reconcile work that engages every student's passions with work that leads to outcomes that are meaningful on a scale that goes beyond students and their families.

Here's what I mean by that: if students are doing a project that connects with what is meaningful to them personally, everyone will be doing their own project. I'm a big fan of this, and kids still work collaboratively when they do this, because they critique each other's work.

What this work lacks is scale - when everyone's doing their own thing, you can't so something like run a big science experiment. If you're doing meaningful, cutting-edge science, you need everyone working on what they're commissioned to work on. This means that you're going to be doing work that doesn't resonate with everybody - or rather, you might be able to find a piece of the project that resonates with everybody, but there will be a lot of work that people need to do that they don't find innately interesting. This applies equally to teacher-led and student-led projects: even if you are doing a large-scale science project that's student-driven, it will only work if it's driven by a few students, with everyone else getting on board to help realize their vision.

This means that you need to help individual students find their own “entry points” into a project that will make it meaningful to them.

There are moments (such as the project launch and the exhibition) where every student gets pumped up and joins in for pretty much the same reasons, and it feels good to be working as one big group. But full-group enthusiasm is ephemeral. It doesn't get you through a six-week project.

When you're talking about the project (as opposed to the project launch day), engagement is much more like trying to pass a bill through congress - every single person has their own particular interest that you need to appeal to. And the very fact that one group of people is excited about a project will be enough to make other people think "ehhh, this probably isn't my thing."

This isn't really surprising. Imagine going up to a group of fifty adults and saying "Hey, you all live in the same general vicinity, I'd like you all to work on a complex and important science experiment together, over the course of several months." It just wouldn't fly.

The extraordinary thing is the extent to which most students, most of the time, are ready to go out on a limb and give something a try, even it it's not the thing they would personally choose to do with their time.


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1110129 2016-11-23T01:32:31Z 2016-11-23T04:05:37Z Subjects and Folders, Projects and Tags

School subjects do harm to educators' power to reason. Here's what I mean by that: imagine a school stops teaching history. There's just no class called "history" anymore. Let me guess what you're thinking about this school: its students will be intellectually malnourished. Depending on your ideological predilection, here are a few worries you might have:"they'll grow up unmoored from their heritage", "they won't learn from the mistakes of the past (for example, how can you understand the potential implications of this political moment without knowing about Germany in the 1930s? And how can you understand Black Lives Matter if you don't know about the Civil Rights movement?)", "without turning a critical lens on the stories we tell ourselves about the past, students won't be able to understand the power structures that undergird all contemporary discourse." 

OK, I share all these concerns. But here's a thought experiment: let's say that in every school across the United States, all students took a class called Philosophy. In it, students learned about the fundamental principles of argument, and the various attempts across the millenia to create a coherent theory of justice, of judging right and wrong, and (more recently) of fundamental rights. They learned the mechanics of argument and logic. Now imagine that the schools decide to stop teaching philosophy, an replace it with history. Wouldn't that seem like a catastrophic loss to these fictional educators?

One explanation for our attachment to our current slate of school subjects is what behavior economists call the "endowment effect", by which people tend to overvalue what they own ("overvalue" in the sense that people tend to want more money for things they already own than other people are willing to pay). 

In the case of school subjects, we fear what we would lose by getting rid of a subject. But this fear implies something totally inaccurate: it implies that there is a really good reason that we teach the set of subjects that we teach. But if you consider the skills and knowledge that you need as an adult right now (let alone what we might need in the future) it's obvious that English, History, Pure Math, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are an odd set of categories to build an education around. And I'm not making an instrumentalist "we should be educating people for the careers of today" argument here. Rather, I think this is a weird list of subjects for ANY POSSIBLE desired educational outcome. The only outcome it fulfills is "to become an educated person according to the current definition" and arguing for the current list of subjects on that basis is (as we'd all know if we'd taken philosophy in school) circular reasoning. 

Here's what I think: subjects are a weird way to organize school. If we were creating the concept of "school" now, there's no way we would use them as an organizing principle, because they aren't a good way to organize learning. They are, in fact, a "folder" system, and what we need is a "tag" system. 

The "folder" system was, until recently, the only way to organize information: when I was growing up, information was mostly stored on paper, and sorted in folders. Because organizational structures tend to outlive their usefulness (sound familiar?), most computers still use folders to organize information. 

This is not optimal - documents do not have only one characteristic and if I'm trying to file an interesting article that argues that you can learn a lot about the 2016 presidential election by studying the fight over Title Nine in universities, what folder should it go in? "Political Analysis?" "Current Events?" "Women's Rights?" "Sports?" "Higher Education?" "Argumentative Writing?" It depends on what I want to use it for - and what I want to use it for will vary from semester to semester. 

Because of this, computers increasingly (though not as quickly as I would like) organize files by tagging rather than by folders. That article about Title 9 can only go into one folder, but I can give it as many tags as I want. 

Education should have a tagging system. If students are learning through interdisciplinary projects, it's easy to identify what they are and aren't learning in each project - which means it would be easy to give it "tags". Over the course of the year, these tags would make it easy to see what skills and information a student had been taught, and what they hadn't (and if these tags connected to assessment - for example through portfolios and Presentations of Learning, you'd be able to see what the student had actually LEARNED which is a lot more important than what they've been "taught"). 

So let's ditch "subjects" as an organizing principle - they make us think in terms of what's taught rather than what's learned, and they reinforce the endowment effect in totally unhelpful ways. 


For more on "subjects", check out "Changing the Subject" by Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan, which Andrew Gloag turned into an animation narrated by Larry. 

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1103784 2016-10-31T04:51:54Z 2016-10-31T04:51:54Z Four dimensions of assessment for learning (an extremely rough cut)

Came up with these a couple of days ago. 

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1102554 2016-10-27T04:03:09Z 2016-10-27T04:06:11Z A logistical report from the midst of a podcasting project - mostly about mics, some thoughts on punk

We're approaching the final week of the Mad Props Project, students have recorded a lot of tape and are starting to record narration, and today most (but not all) of the computers stopped recognizing one of the yetis (those are mics, for the uninitiated) and at least one computer appeared to have stopped recognizing all of the yetis. 

So I have some observations and thoughts about the technical aspects of recording with students.

1. The existential nightmare of the unrecognized device

Two different yetis are now in some state of non-functionality. One (donated, which means trying to claim warranty will be complicated) just stopped responding entirely. The light on the mute button that indicates that the Yeti is alive and communicating just doesn't come on. I've tried different cords, different USB ports, different laptops, and both mac and PC and I'm getting nothing. No idea what to do about that (and the internet hasn't been forthcoming either). 

The second problem yeti plugs in, lights up, and then doesn't register with the computer, which (I eventually realized) acknowledges its existence on a not-immediately-obvious window as an "unrecognized USB device" (or something like that), but refuses to go any further. A former student checked it with all the PC laptops and found that it worked with exactly two laptops.

I'm hoping our IT guy will be able to solve this, but I sure can't, and it raises an interesting issue: updates get pushed out to our laptops from IT central, and even our IT guy doesn't know when they'll come or what exactly they'll do, so it's possible that an update led these laptops to lose whatever driver they need in order to recognize the Yeti (I don't really understand PCs). So what this means, I now realize, is that any hardware that plugs directly into a school laptop is at the mercy of whatever changes in the world of school IT. Now, I suspect that if, say, a new Mac operating system rendered the yeti non-functional, it would be the first thing you read about when you googled "Blue Yeti", and Yeti would be scrambling to tell us all how to fix it. But HTHCV upgrades don't get the same kind of press, so I'm adrift. 

2. The delicate flower that is the mini-usb cable

The yeti is a USB mic. It has a mini-USB port in its base, and then plugs into the USB port on a computer. The mic itself is attached to the base in such a way that you can rock it back and forth - and, without much difficulty, guillotine the mini-USB cable, bending or even shearing off its head so it ends up looking like this:

This has happened A LOT to our students. To be honest, I've nearly done it myself. I'm going to go out on a limb and call it a design flaw.

3. Punk Rock PBL vs. Equipment

I want to share my favorite quote about education, which comes from the song "Try this at Home" by Frank Turner:

The only thing that punk rock should ever really mean

is not sitting 'round and waiting for the lights to go green.

What I love most about being a project-based teacher is when kids make a project their own, and start figuring out their own solutions and workarounds. So, for example, since this project started students have asked if they can go find a quiet room to record, left with a mic, got permission from another teacher to use an empty room, and recorded. Last week, two students who'd secured an interview with someone on the east coast interviewed her by huddling together outside the door of the school, using a telephone mic. The audio from that won't be pristine, but they looked around, decided outside was better for background noise than in, and got it done. I don't think there's any better sign that a project is "working" than students DIYing solutions like this. 

The downside is that stuff gets broken. Now, had I declared that my makeshift office studio, with its one mic and "studio-in-a-box" sound insulator, was the only place anyone could do interviews or record narration, I could probably safeguard my equipment better. I also would have lost a huge amount of time, because only one group would ever have been recording at a time. 

I was thinking about this a lot today, because throughout this project my feeling has been "students just need to treat the yetis really carefully, and every busted usb cable is a sign of their shortcomings (and therefore of mine, as a teacher, for failing to make them conscientious). But take a moment to consider the following: which do I want to cultivate more in my students - a punk-rock 'I can figure this out for myself' attitude, or a careful and tentative approach to using equipment? Obviously, I want them to be punk rock about this.* 

4. Let's hear it for XLR

And once I realized this, something else occurred to me: I'd been laboring under the assumption that USBs were the default connector of microphones. This is insane. XLR is the default connector of microphones. And how many XLR mics have I seen get knocked over onstage? How many times have I dropped my sax mic? Sooooooooooo many. And they tend to do great. So there is a durable audio technology - the industry standard. Another great thing about XLR? It doesn't require any software for a mixing board to recognize that a mic has been plugged into it. 

So next year I'm planning to get a couple of XLR mics, run them to a mixer and thence into a digital recorder, and then (I think - stop me if this seems dumb) transfer files from the recorder to the squad's laptop via SD card. I'm thinking that an mp3 on a SD card is more likely to be reliably recognized by computers than a yeti is. 

 

*Just to be clear, I think there's a separate issue about using tools properly and treating them with respect - for example, practices like holding laptops by the monitor, or absent-mindedly whipping laptops up and down in your hands while conversing with a friend so the monitor swings open and shut, are to be discouraged. 


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1081503 2016-08-16T01:50:47Z 2016-08-16T01:50:47Z Remembering the Sergeant

In my first year of teaching I used to have groups assign someone the role of "sergeant", whose job was to "leave no-one behind", because "a good soldier never leaves a man behind."

In other words, the Sergeant makes sure everyone is contributing to the conversation, and draws out quieter voices.

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1076021 2016-07-25T22:29:36Z 2016-07-25T22:29:36Z The correct response to "We did a project just like this in 8th grade!"

This just occurred to me. 

When, as happens in PBL schools, students inform you that they already did a project that, to them, sounds similar to your project, and you can hear their frustration that they're just going to be going over old ground, the correct response is "Thank God for that. If lots of you have experience in this, that means we can make this product to a professional standard."


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071483 2016-07-10T17:26:17Z 2016-07-10T17:26:17Z From the Innovation Unit Vaults: "Shakespeare would have wanted the kids at Kingsmead school to study the Simpsons"

This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog. This post was my big moment in the sun: someone had managed to get national coverage for starting a petition demanding that students at a school stop studying The Simpsons in their Media Studies class, and focus on Shakespeare instead. Stephen Fry weighed in, and at one point tweeted the words "Well exactly" with a link to this post. Over 25,000 people read it. And now you can too:

The BBC reported today that over 400 parents at Kingsmead Community School in Somerset have signed a petition demanding that the school's Media module stop using class and homework time to analyse The Simpsons, and devote the newly freed-up time to studying Shakespeare. On BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, parent Joseph Reynolds particularly recommended A Midsummer Night's Dream. 'There's a time and a place for The Simpsons,' Reynolds said, 'but it doesn't belong in the classroom.' Reynolds appears to have a particular understanding of pedagogy, based on two commonly-held but erroneous premises: that the main function of education is to expose students to new things, and that education that prepares students to negotiate the day-to-day world they'll be living in is not 'real' education. I'll look at these assumptions in turn:

Exposure is not the same as understanding

People who don't understand education often think that a teacher's job is to introduce students to unfamiliar things. Actually, the best teachers help their students to look at familiar things with new eyes - so physics teaches students to look at suspension bridges in a new way, biology completely alters their understanding of saliva, and learning about the Holocaust completely transforms what they think when someone calls somebody else 'queer' on the playground. It's wonderful when a teacher introduces you to something that you've never encountered before, but it's just as wonderful when teachers turn the everyday into something rich and strange. To their great credit, Kingsmead are standing behind their Media teachers. Assistant Head Andy Dunnett told the BBC that 'Students are encouraged to look at the text in a critical way. Initially it's about building up their skills as critical thinkers. They also learn about different aspects of the media audience, visual narrative, presentation and stereotypes, and some quite high level thinking ideas like satire, irony and parody.' This brings me to my response to Reynolds' second assumption...

Education should prepare students for living in the world

You might think everyone feels this way, but the curriculum suggests otherwise. To give one example, most schools take it for granted that 'there's a time and a place for economics, but it's not the mathematics classroom'. So, students graduate able to measure a triangle within an inch of its life, but not to compare interest rates on mortgage offers. And they graduate able to identify a sly reference to Spanish succession in an Elizabethan play, but not to critically engage with popular media - that is to say, the billboards, posters, magazines, TV programmes, and advertisements that tell them they should buy more, lose weight, plug their sweat glands, indulge in snack foods, despise those who come to this country looking for protection from tyranny, and get angrier at benefits cheats than at tax cheats. 

There's some pretty dodgy stuff in a Midsummer Night's Dream (the play's first scene explicitly argues that if a woman falls in love with the man who kidnapped her, it's a good thing), but kids aren't going to be encountering it every day for the rest of their lives. William Shakespeare himself suffered the slings and arrows of the dreary snobbery that animates Reynolds' petition - Ben Jonson alluded to this when he interrupted his memorial poem to Shakespeare to point out that his subject 'hadst small Latin and less Greek.' Shakespeare got his own back most effectively in Love's Labour Lost, with the latin- spouting buffoon Holofernes, who analyses a contemporary love poem as follows:

You find not the apostraphas, and so miss the accent: let me supervise the canzonet. Here are only numbers ratified but, for the elegancy, facility, and golden cadence of poesy, caret. Ovidius Naso was the man: and why, indeed, Naso, but for smelling out the odouriferous flowers of fancy, the jerks of invention? Imitari is nothing: so doth the hound his master, the ape his keeper, the tired horse his rider. But, damosella virgin, was this directed to you? (IV,2,1268)

It's easy to imagine a real-life Elizabethan Holofernes petitioning a school to stop teaching Shakespeare, and teach more Ovidius Naso. 'There's a time and place for Shakespeare,' he might have said, 'but he doesn't belong in the classroom.' Shakespeare, who in his time was a contemporary writer (a fact often-forgotten by crusaders like Reynolds) vividly understood how education calcifies when it neglects what is happening NOW. 

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071280 2016-07-09T20:21:43Z 2016-07-09T20:21:44Z From the Innovation Unit Vaults: "I owe my PhD to the Sherwood High School Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival" (January 19, 2010)

This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog: 

My High School, Sherwood, had an annual event called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival, a revue of about fifty songs, broken up by a single intermission – played, sung, and in many cases, arranged, by students (just shy of 200 in total, not including the ones who build the set, and run the sound and lighting). When I first auditioned in 1995, it had been going for 25 years. I started out (like everyone) as a backup singer, then played saxophone in the band, and sang the lead on ‘Money (That’s What I want)’ and the Guess Who’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’. But my favourite moment was playing the tenor sax solo on Louis Prima’s ‘Jump Jive and Wail’ – actually, that’s not quite true. My favourite moment – or at least the one that most sticks in my mind, was at the beginning of the show – standing in a row with the rest of the horn section, back to the audience, hearing the drummer’s count-off, spinning around as one (you had to have choreography) and kicking in with the horn line, greeted by a screaming, sold- out crowd of 1000... but I’m getting bogged down in nostalgia. It’s only since my colleague Dave Price started talking about High Tech High that I realised how much I owe to Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. The title of this post is no exaggeration. I have a PhD in English literature (and I completed it on time), and the reason I was able to do it has more to do with Rock ‘n’ Roll revival than with any of my High School English classes.

This isn’t a slur on my English teachers, some of whom were great – but I already loved reading critically, and writing critically, when I arrived – and the curriculum felt like it was geared towards mastering concepts that could be demonstrated in exam conditions – not a skill that I ever drew on as a PhD student.* 

On the other hand, these are the skills I learned from Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival:

1. Hitting deadlines: There is absolutely no deadline like a performance: you get no chance of an extension, and no partial credit for late completion.

2. Working consistently, year-round, with no visible reward: When I was practicing saxophone in June, I wasn’t preparing SPECIFICALLY for Rock ‘n’ Roll, which wouldn’t take place until March – but I wanted to keep my chops up, and I knew I would be set back if I took a break. So I practiced all the time, whether or not I had a gig coming up. This skill is key, because when you do a PhD in the UK, you’re only assessed twice: at your upgrade viva, which happens at the end of year one, and at the final viva – when you go into a room and defend your thesis against two examiners for a few hours, at the end of which they decide whether you get a PhD or not. So if you can’t work for long stretches with no imminent deadlines, you’ll never finish. Those are the skills that applied directly to my PhD, but there are others whose significance is much wider:

3. Working in a heterogenous group: It’s no secret that when you segregate according to academic attainment, you segregate, to a large extent, by social class. This is not the case with singing and dancing – and as a result Rock ‘n’ Roll was very nearly the only time in high school that I didn’t spend surrounded by other middle- class people.

4. Working towards a publicly-validated result: I’m going to get very High-tech High here. Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is a venerable institution in Sandy Spring, Maryland: lots of people now performing in it are the children of past performers – and tickets for the six annual shows (over two weekends) sell out so quickly that many people who get in line before the box office opens leave disappointed. The upshot of all this is that I spent rehearsals terrified that I wouldn’t live up to the standards that the community expected – and I think this was good, productive fear.

5. Developing secondary skills that were unrelated to my primary skill: I was in Rock ‘n’ Roll revival because I could play saxophone. I also had to learn to dance – which I was less good at – and I needed to procure a set of vintage costumes for myself – which I had absolutely no skills or experience in. But I got it done, because I had to. It’s an important characteristic of projects that they force you to acquire skills that you came to the project with no knowledge of, or indeed interest in.

6. Accomplishing something that seemed impossible: At thebeginning of rehearsals, it’s impossible to imagine that you will accomplish what was accomplished the year before – a seamless run of songs, on a great-looking set – and in fact, I’ve never known of another school that has pulled off what Sherwood pulls off ever year. 

Now it’s always satisfying to achieve more than you thought yourself capable of, but what’s amazing about Rock ‘n’ Roll is that whatever role you have played in accomplishing it, almost all of the credit DOES NOT go to you. Everybody involved – musician, singer, dancer, lighting designer, carpenter, sound technician – has contributed only a fraction of the whole. There’s no question that playing music onstage to cheering crowds is good for the ego, but perhaps the most powerful lesson of Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is that it’s not all about you. 


*I should note that editing the school literary magazine, under the endlessly serene and compassionate supervision of Mr. Deitchman, DID provide me with some of the skills I needed... a pattern is developing here. 


This post got a bunch of comments:

From Annette:

Alec- I could not have said it better myself. It is amazing thinking back how much we would accomplish from the early December auditions to performances in March. These are some of my favorite memories in my life (so far). I got goose bumps thinking about that countoff at the beginning of the show- especially our very last one senior year- down on the corner. I'll add to the social aspect even more though- working alongside a dance partner for months on end, you grow to adore them! Some of my best memories from RnR were dancing with Afiba and Adam. I'll also always remember dancing with you during the bridge in "Money." It makes me smile just thinking about it! I also completely agree that RnR helped us with our skills for higher education. We all share such a special bond being alums of the show that no other high school students share. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Hope you are doing well, Dr. Patton! love- Dr. K.

From Holly:

Wow, well said. Thanks for sharing. I was in RRR from #19-22 and can say that doing that and the newspaper no doubt helped me gain skills to survive getting my PhD (especially when I lost an advisor to cancer and my co-advisor moved to another university at the same time). Sherwood was great to me.

From Dan:

This was a great blog post to read. I think back to those years fondly with vivid memories of so many of us dedicating our time to hard work for many months in the pursuit of putting on a great show. To paraphrase Jack Black - a great rock show can change the world. I'm not sure if the experience was as much of an obvious impact on my path in life, but Rock 'n' Roll Revival definitely shaped me on a personal level. The dedication that we all put in to this show with our time and hard work was for me probably the first of many times that I started on a path for what seemed to be an unobtainable goal. Standing on that stage in front of a thousand people night after night to dance and sing allowed me to learn how to put aside inhibitions and embrace a confidence in myself I never knew existed before, and that has continued to serve me well in my current career. I will always cherish the time we spent together working on the show, building friendships, building partnerships, making music, entertaining each other as well as the audience, and having more fun in a school sanctioned activity than most high school students will ever understand. Those 4 years went by quickly and I miss being a part of the show, but I'm grateful for the time I had and the role RRR played in my life. Alec - nice post, and Jump Jive and Wail was also one of my most memorable moments, but from the dance perspective.

From David Horwitz:

Written on behalf of us ALL -- thank you, Alec! It amazes my adult friends when I tell them that at MY high school, the football players were also dancers in the annual rock and roll show, students who could sing were given the chance to do so in front of seven sold out crowds of 1,300 people, and 15% of the entire student body was actually involved in this amazing production, year after year! Those of us who went to Sherwood definitely had a unique high school experience, one that will stay with us forever. Thank you to Bill, Gene, Joe, and everyone else over the years who made this time of our lives so special! - David Horwitz '85, RRR #12 and #14

From Afiba:

Well done. English class is only part of what makes a great Dr. Of English. This paper demonstrates that we are the sum of our experiences.

From Tony Jordan

I'm from your Dad's generation but we had Rock 'n' Roll too. I can't say it improved my school work but it sure was a gas. I used to go to parties and dances envious of the guys that played in bands. They had all the girls and seemed really cool. After all I played clarinet in high school band, not terribly glamorous. Then one day I accompanied a friend who was auditioning on tenor sax for a local rock band. He walked into the suburban church basement where they rehearsed wearing shades and a beret. He said "Lay some chords on me, man." and totally freaked out these suburban teens. Later after his audition, which hadn't gone too well I asked if I could try his sax. Since clarinet and sax fingerings are similar I cranked out a version of Night Train. The next day I was asked if I could get a hold of a tenor sax and my Rock 'n' Roll career was launched. Since then I've played in dozens of Rock, Blues and Jazz bands. After my having given your dad introductory sax lessons he and I went to Berklee for a summer course where I began to play bari in their sight reading band. I met your dad's teacher, the legendary Frank Foster from the Count Basie band. Well it's 40 years later and I'm still blowing horn in various big bands, combos, pit orchestras and my sax ensemble. Playing music has been spiritually rewarding and enriched my life immeasurably. Don't let your horn gather dust in the closet. You can always find a group to play with if you want to.

From C Madoo:

Thanks for the memories! I was in RnR #16-20 and there is nothing else like it. It prepared me a lot for the real world. I actually went back a couple a years ago and it broght back alot of memories.

 From Jim Hofman:

Hey Alec thanks for your great post as well as other who wrote in with memories--cool to read! I am with your train of thought on R&RR under the direction of Bill Evan and Gene Orndorff. Its been 30 years since my first time on stage at the R&RR and they are both still there. Amazing! I heard today one person in the musical dept was let go because of the States budget but that it was Not Bill. I`m wondering was in Gene? Well Alec, when I was in The R&RR, that was 12 years before you set foot on stage there. So yeah the memories last a life time :) I always have said: "These kids have no clue how much they will treasure the fun experiences by being a part of Sherwood High School`s Annual Rock and Roll Revivals. You don`t know it when you are in H.S, but later on in life, you definitely realize how BIG of a chapter in life H.S. and the R&RR was as for fun memories. Alec, you hit it on the nail about how it puts all "classes" of students together to create something--nerds, jocks, pompom chicks, teachers, musicians- whatever Ha, it was all good, and that was that. There was no Bullshit at SHS. Everyone mixed well there. I was not aware of any clicks of kids with nasty attitudes, black white, jocks, freaks, nerds--there was not much of that crap thank goodness. If there was I ignored it. I hated trends except tight Jordash jeans on chicks :) And Definitely was no attitude crap of any type is Bill Evan`s music classes or in his R&RR`s. Bill Evans would kick your ass with his vocal chords alone. He started teaching at Sherwood in 1979 and in March of 1980, which was Rock and Roll Revival #9, Sherwood was blessed with Bills talents as the new musical director. He had mega classical and opera vocal chops but for some reason used it to teach after not gettin the right gig. So, H.S got him instead to all the kids advantage. He would demonstrate how to sing from the lower gut, and the damn walls would shake. He was the force that the R&RR show needed. He was unSTOPable--30 years later he is still there-Ha wow Jesus what a long career. I know Bill was impressed with the talent at Sherwood in my days there. Music was so incredible in the 80`s. Top 40 music was more fun then for sure. Ok I`m STILL stuck in the 80`s according to my wife. I play 80`s at work in Sirius daily. Its fun and easy tunes, the Cars, the Police. I don`t get Boyance and today’s hip-hop craze. Don`t need it personally. Some cool cats I remember going down memory lane during Sherwood’s early 80`s alumni readers might know like Sean Whalen, Bobby Brooks. I know allot of cats from Sherwood that went on to become full time musicians to this day. Its reminds me of a sports team that works hard together at something and wins. The R&RR was a bonding project. I`m 45 Alec, and when I see my old HS pal Kevin Yorke here and there, we have the memories with us still like it was not that long ago. When I did the Rock & Roll Revival #9 thru #12 in the early 80`s, it was all a group thing like you said. It was never about one person. I envy all the people who work hard on Broadway because all those actors and dancers and crew experience tons of fun and bonding with each show. I guess it` probably the same way on a movie set for 3-4 months, and then BOOM it`s over. Does anyone remember Kevin Yorke as the master of ceremonies as a DJ one year I think 1981 I think, or Tom Musgrove as Wolfman Jack in 1980 What great cats. I always loved the shows when they had a DJ weaving things together. You are who you are, and the R&RR brought some of that out in us. Arif Durrani with his keyboard tie on always smiling--he still plays today. He was the keyboard king in HS. I remember thinking I need a keyboard player for my top 40 bank Eclipse. I asked Arif the next day, and then for the next 5 years into college even we did top 40 dances everywhere Exactly 100 gigs. Going back even farther was ninth grade asking my neighbor Tommy Dobridge to join my band with Jamie Fornatora and Paul Betances on drums. Well Tommy, he was always playing my favorite slow song "Stairway to Heaven" PERFECTLT on his guitar, over at Pete and Chris Benoits house. I asked him to play lead for Eclipse and the rest was history. I still have Tapes of Tommy solos from a bunch of our gigs and some back yard Parties. As far back as the 8th grade party at Tim Maddens back field playing Beatles and Van Halen. 

From Mindy:

I was so jealous of all those who had the talent and nerve to perform. I was SHS class of 1984. Looking back, I wish i was on that stage. I still have no talent but it looked like such a great time.

From Beth Miller Buckley:

Hi Alec... Beth Miller(Buckley) here :D I was in R&RR's 7-10!! and I remember when it all started (w/ Sam Andleman and Roger Oliver).. thanks to 3 older sisters that were at SHS before me...but I was the first in my family to be on the stage of the Ertzman...and I will never stop being proud of what we all did together back there...and what a great experience it was......I didn't go off to be anything major..just a mom and a Domestic Engineer..LOL BUT once Bill Evans came in and took over as musical director...the show turned into one of the most professionally done I had ever been in...the encouragement Bill gave to let our talents flow was off the charts...something time can never take... Since my time there..this show has touched more people than anyone can count..and I am so glad to see it is going as strong as ever! SHS was a safe place where we were all very close and to this day remain so....R&RR was an even safer haven...where when you think you're close with someone...you aren't until you do this thing together with them...then you are close...and with as much time that passes there has been no erosion at all....that's a good place to be.. Thanks for the great write up..I am sure you are probably one of my very good friends son/nephew etc...Olney itself is a great place to grow up.




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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071277 2016-07-09T20:00:24Z 2016-07-09T20:00:24Z From the Innovation Unit Vaults: "'Laughing at Shakespeare in the right places' - intellectual impoverishment in California" (February 10,2010)

This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog: 

I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Flanagan’s deeply misguided article, ‘Cultivating Failure’, in the Atlantic. The article is one long warning against the evils of ‘The Edible Schoolyard’, a California project spearheaded by the chef and gardener Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Foundation, which supports schools in developing gardens and connecting them to the curriculum. According to Flanagan, this is what happened in the pilot school: ‘In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations.’ The result of this nefarious scheme was, Flanagan explains, that ‘students’ grades quickly improved.’

Those trying to grasp what, exactly, Flanagan’s problem with ‘The Edible Schoolyard’ is will grasp in vain. Her evidence amounts to this: in California, there is a huge achievement gap between Black and Latino students and their white peers. And she reasons that if students spend 1.5 hours per week in a garden (yes, that’s the amount of time we’re talking about here), that’s 1.5 hours that the Black and Latino students are spending doing the sort of manual labour that their forbears have been trying to escape. There’s a deep vein of snobbery here, thinly disguised as concern for the underprivileged. Contrary to what Flanagan seems to think, agriculture is a complex, multidisciplinary business. It requires careful planning, complex calculation, precise implementation, and continuing observation. If she thinks working in a garden is a waste of time because she doesn’t see how it will help performance on standardised tests (which she regards as the only educational outcome worth anyone’s attention), she might as well demand to know why chemistry students are larking about with test tubes when their laboratory experience will never be reflected in their performance on paper-based exams. But Flanagan won’t ask this question, because mixing chemicals in a lab is ‘real’ learning, while measuring the PH of a soil sample in order to grow food is what farmers do. It’s tempting to laugh at an association this facile, and I recommend you do so. It’s utterly preposterous. The subject of laughter brings me to Flanagan’s vision for education – or rather, the vision that she hears when she speaks to Michael Piscal, founder and CEO of the Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, the White Knight that she sets against the ‘dowager queen’ (her phrase) Alice Waters:

“Look,” he said, when pressed, “there’s nothing wrong with kids getting together after school and working on a garden that’s very nice. But when it becomes the center of everything—as it usually does—it’s absurd. The only question in education reform that’s worth anything is this: What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”

This is as intellectually impoverished a vision for education as I have ever encountered. It’s straight out of My Fair Lady: 'let’s not teach kids to engage critically with literature, just make sure they can blend in with high society by laughing at the right spots.' The idea that we must choose between a generation of graduates who can grow food and a generation who can recognise an Elizabethan double-entendre is a false dichotomy – but if I had to choose, I know which skill I'd want them to have.


This post received one comment, posted by my brother, Andrew:

Excellent analysis. Looking at it from an outside perspective, I am amazed that Flanagan could interview Piscal, get that quote ("laughing at Shakespeare in the right places"), and not have the critical capacity to give more than a cursory glance to his '25 words or less' vision of what pre-collegiate education should be. Did she just hear the name 'Shakespeare' and figure that's what learning really should be? I can barely begin to express my frustration with Flanagan's thesis. And it's hard to know where to begin in breaking it down. When the foundation is built of paint, bread sticks, and shellac (Fat Tony's construction material of choice for Springfield Elementary), is their any point in trying to look at what was piled on top? It all topples down regardless. Even so, let me just point to one example of her rhetorical slight of hand. She puts the "Edible Schoolyard" educational program into perspective thusly: "If this patronizing agenda were promulgated in the Jim Crow South by a white man who was espousing a sharecropping curriculum for African American students, we would see it for what it is: a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education." Maintaining a garden of your own, then, is roughly equivalent to sharecropping in the Jim Crow South (i.e., "an economic arrangement that largely maintained the status quo between black and white through legal means" following emancipation, according to Wikipedia). Is that a fair comparison? Because it is, in fact, the basis of her entire thesis. Namely, that engaging in all of the activities involved in maintaining a small food garden at school (including 1.5 hours of manual labor a week) is roughly equivalent to working as a low-paid immigrant picking fruits on an industrial farm. If anything, that assertion trivializes the back- breaking labour illegal immigrants are forced to engage in to survive. Mostly, however, it is simply a false analogy. Flanagan's lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. She purports to be attacking those who would patronize, while simultaneously taking this view on what comprises proper education: "hours...spent reading important books or learning higher math" are hours spent "attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt." We must 'lift' these immigrants (though of course 'lifting' them in a totally non-patronizing way) out of the desperate struggle of agriculture, because obviously everyone knows that the only worthwhile life is one of reading and letters or math and science. This is the goal we should all be striving for. Flanagan clearly knows what is best for you, but that is not because she is being patronizing or condescending. I am happy to see that the "Edible Schoolyard" program is still alive and strong, and delighted to think that the children at those schools, aside from the many educational benefits of that kind of a program often enumerated in this blog, are getting at least an extra hour or two a week outdoors, working with the earth, getting exercise, being in nature. I just hope Flanagan's attack doesn't threaten that.

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1036454 2016-04-19T02:53:23Z 2016-04-19T04:16:50Z Cultures of Complaint in high school: FOGS (possibly the first in a series)

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I performed a private ritual whenever I went to a show or movie, and found myself in a less-than-ideal seat: I would furtively look around until I found somebody in a seat that was unequivocally worse than my own. Then I would relax, knowing I didn't have the worst seat in the house. 

I don't remember when I stopped doing this, but at some point it just didn't matter so much anymore. I also don't remember when it peaked, but I now suspect it was tenth grade. This phenomenon probably has a name already, but since I regard it as the defensive sibling of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), I'm calling it Fear of Getting Shafted (FOGS). 

FOMO is a phenomenon that, at its best, drives discovery and adventure. At its worst, it leads people to take stupid risks ("If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump to?" is a question about FOMO). My favorite story about FOMO comes from cultural critic, university teacher and Vietnam Vet Henry Allen, who told me that he always felt like he missed out on the sixties because he was in Vietnam, but a friend of his who was a radical activist told him the thing about the sixties was that even in the midst of a riot, he'd be wondering if there was a better riot a few blocks away. Fundamentally, FOMO puts you on the offense - it sends you down the street searching for a better riot. 

FOGS, on the other hand, is a protective instinct. Ponzi schemes are driven by FOMO, and FOGS is what tells you that they're probably too good to be true. But at its worst, it leads to a joyless life of endless suspicion of other people's motives. 

My favorite illustration of FOGS is an economic exercise called the "ultimatum game". Here's how HowStuffWorks summarizes it:

You're standing on the sidewalk with a friend, minding your own business, when a man approaches with a proposition. He offers you $20 in one-dollar bills and says you can keep the money, under one condition: You have to share some of it with your friend. You can offer your friend as much or as little as you like, but if your friend rejects your offer, neither of you get to keep any of the money. What do you do?
According to the "rational actor" assumptions of classical economics that no-one ever follows, you give your friend $1.00 and your friend grudgingly accepts it. But what tends to happen (at least according to HowStuffWorks, Wikipedia, and this article I found on Stanford's website) is that people tend to offer about $8.00 to their friends, and that offers below $3.00 tend to get rejected, leaving nobody with any money. 

Now, there's a lot going on here, but I think FOGS operates both in the offer of $8.00 ("I don't want to be a jerk, but I don't want to be the chump who walks away with less money") and the rejection of low offers ("I'd rather both of us walk away with nothing, than me be the only chump here").

FOGS is also one of the most powerful weapons in the Trump campaign - Trump constantly claims not just that Americans aren't well off, but that other people are giving us the shaft and laughing at us (in fact, as this Washington Post article shows, he's been doing this since the '80s, and getting great results).


Where I'm going with all this is that while FOMO tends to be the frame of mind most often associated with teenagers, I think FOGS is much more powerful, especially in large heterogenous groups (such as, just to pull an example out of the air, classrooms). 

FOGS is the ingredient that gets left out in discussions about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, because even if I feel intrinsically motivated to do something, a grade (or, even better, extra credit) is insurance that I'm not getting shafted, as well as (equally importantly) evidence to everyone around me that I'm no chump. 
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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1035424 2016-04-17T20:24:36Z 2016-04-17T20:24:36Z A quote about coaching

At some point I attended a round-table, or panel, or training about coaching. It's probably obvious to you already that most of it didn't make much of an impression.

But I liked this quote a lot: "Coaching is giving a chance to examine what they are doing in light of their intentions", which appears to have been said by James Flaherty.



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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1035421 2016-04-17T20:18:42Z 2016-04-17T20:18:42Z Some notes from the Project Zero workshop I attended months ago

I'm going through an old notebook, which included my notes from the project zero workshop. My awesome, heavily-annotated packet is lost forever (I took somebody else's packet with me) but the stuff that remains seems useful.


First, The Artful Thinking Palette

I haven't given any thought to this since the workshop, but I remember thinking that the thinking skills (or whatever one might call them) on the artful thinking palette seem useful, and (at least at the time) were coherent and instantly understandable in a way that I've never found our Habits of Heart and Mind to be. 

Here's a screenshot of the palette:


I feel the absence of a usable, easy-to-remember set of thinking skills in my teaching. My suspicion is that using something like this in my class (or, even better, across the school) would help kids to be able to identify how they are learning and growing, which would in turn make them both more confident that they are becoming more skilled over time (which I think is a frequent source of anxiety across the HTH schools) and more able to assess their own development and focus on areas where they most want to improve.

Next, and finally, the Triadic Model of Dispositions

The big insight here is that if you know how to do something, and are willing to do it, your mastery of that skill is incomplete until you are "alert to the opportunity" to use the skill. 

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/990705 2016-02-10T22:05:11Z 2016-02-10T22:16:32Z Track Exchange: "The Headmaster Ritual" by The Smiths

Wow, a song about Manchester schools! This is dear to my heart - when my dad was in high school he spent a year studying at Manchester Grammar School. His experience seemed to have been much better than Morrissey's, though. And he made a very good friend who became my honorary "English dad" when I studied abroad in England decades later. 

I know England has a history of institutionalized brutality in its schools (see Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall", and lots and lots of novels for more on this - I have a personal theory that Lord of the Flies would have turned out very differently if the kids stranded on the island had come from, say, HTHCV). But what really strikes me about this song is that it isn't about getting angry and fighting authority, it's about getting scared and wanting "to go home" (which, incidentally, pairs neatly with the line "Driving in your car, I never never want to go home", from another Smiths song, "There is a Light that Never Goes Out"). I can't think of a lot of rock songs written from the perspective of a scared, homesick kid. 

And, on the subject of the music - first of all, I love the ululating, and I want to point out a distinctive Morrissey vocal habit - starting a straight out of the previous line, as if it just occurred to him as he was singing - for example, "He does the military two-step down the length of my neck/I wanna go home." Finally, this has got me thinking about the outrageously clean, processed sound of eighties rock - the way the drums are recorded, they sound almost digital. I remember hating this in the nineties, a time when it seemed like every song was recorded entirely in the red, but I've come to love it. 

My Track for this Week:


"Waiting for the Man", as performed by David Bowie, live at Nassau. The reasons for choosing a Bowie song at the moment are obvious, but I also wanted to share this because it's such a great example of a cover song teasing out something from a great song that the composer himself probably doesn't realize was there. In this case, this is partly due to a chord substitution that gives it a kind of "Twist and Shout" build-up. When my band plays "Waiting for the Man" I normally advocate for these changes (and normally get shut down) but man, I love this tune. 

My track for next week:


I advise listening without the video first. 
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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/975796 2016-01-22T18:23:36Z 2016-01-22T18:23:36Z Track Exchange: "The Age of Consent", by New Order

All right, a track from New Order - the band whose relationship to Joy Division I can never QUITE remember. I hadn't knowingly heard this song before, which is surprising since it's number two in Spotify's New Order Top 5, nestled between "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle." 

First Response:

First impression is that "Age of Consent" is vastly more human-sounding than either of those songs. When it opens with that guitar riff, it could be an Allman Brothers song. When the drum kicks in with that twitchy hi-hat it becomes clear that we're not listening to country-rock, but even so, the song's "electronic" elements are subtle - except for one singularly un-subtle synth line which sounds extremely 1980s - and the processing on that The processing on the "Oh-oh!" at about 3:20. Other than that, though, the song is electronic in form (it's structured in layers that come in and out rather than verse-chorus) rather than instrumentation. 

Now, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to criticize the "music for robots" style that I associate with New Order - I love that stuff. But the "humaneness" of "Age of Consent" is striking, especially because for much of the song the singer is audibly at the top of his range. I love this sound (when it works). The Four Tops used this to brilliant effect, pushing Levi Stubbs' voice absolutely to the top of its range (you can read about it here). Also, that distorted, slightly out-of-time guitar that drifts in and out at about 2:45. 

Next listen (the following morning).

As I type this, I'm listening to this again the following morning, and maybe it's because it's Friday, but all I'm thinking is "road trip." Or, more specifically, "road trip movie montage." 

Why I chose my song:

So my song was "Village Ghetto Land" by Stevie Wonder. I chose it because the end of "The Drugs Don't Work" reminded me of it. But there was no question that I'd be offering a Stevie Wonder song to Track Exchange before too long, because he's incredible. My brother pointed out years ago that it's a great instance of form and content clashing with each other really effectively - because it's such a pretty, delicate melody. But it's understated enough that it doesn't fall into what I think of as the "creepy nursery rhyme" cliche beloved of scary movies. The song is genuinely disquieting, because it's genuinely beautiful.

This week's track: David Bowie's cover of "Waiting for the Man", live at the Nassau Coliseum


Jose, I want to applaud you for writing a tribute to Bowie in which you acknowledged your uncertainty about Bowie's music. I personally find that with a lot of his music, I respect it more than I viscerally love it - though he's written some of my favorite songs of all time.

So, I'm choosing a Bowie cover of a Velvet Underground song. If you don't know it, you should probably listen to the original first.. It's here.
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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/967115 2016-01-09T01:22:51Z 2016-01-09T01:22:51Z Track Exchange: "The Drugs don't Work", by the Verve

This is a weekly exchange of music between Jose and me. You can read Jose's response to my track (and find out why he chose this one) here

First Response

This week, Jose has taken a trip back to my adolescence, with "The Drugs Don't Work", by the Verve. I have to admit, I missed this song the first time around, though I definitely didn't miss "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (I don't think it would have been possible to miss Bittersweet Symphony as a fan of rock music in the nineties). However I definitely read a piece in a British music magazine declaring "The Drugs Don't Work" to be an anthem for its particular, rather brief era. 

Anyway, enough about that. On to the song itself:

.

The first thing I noticed was the strings - real strings, not like the Rolling Stones sample that cost The Verve their royalties on "Bitter Sweet Symphony."

Interestingly, my own memories of the Verve made it a lot harder to listen to THIS song "fresh" than it was to listen to Mac Demarco. For example, that article I said I wasn't going to talk about anymore, and don't really member, (almost) definitely said that the Verve's lead singer said the song was about his father's illness, not (as one might naturally assume) about substance abuse. Remembering that, and remembering my own father being in the hospital, meant that the line "The drugs don't work/they just make it work" hit me like a punch in the gut. But then, as the song went on, I started thinking "y'know, this really does sound like it's probably about substance abuse after all." So my relationship to the song was complicated. 

Enough subtext - on to the music:

The basic chord pattern of the song, though not groundbreaking, is extremely effective (it's a tiny little emotional journey - it reminds me of Leonard Cohen's description of "the minor turn and the major lift" in "Hallelujah").

Then there's the two extremely country-sounding guitars which are, in the best possible way, "noodling" in the background. A warm, reverby sound from one, the other one sounding like it's it's being played in an empty concert hall, a long way from the mic. I'm showing my limited guitar knowledge here, but is there pedal steel going on there?

Now, everything sounds like the Beatles if you listen hard enough, but the "Oooh, la la la la  - la  - la - la la la" backup vocals definitely reminded me of those great falsetto "ooh la la las" on "You Won't See Me."

My last, rather odd musical reference point is the final stab by the strings that ends the song reminds me profoundly of "VIllage Ghetto Land" by Stevie Wonder. And Jose, you should listen to that, so I'm choosing it as my next track exchange.


Why I chose my song


For reasons I can't explain, as soon as we started Track Exchange I thought "I've got to choose a song by Love. I wasn't even a fan of Love until my twenties, and I've never listened to any of their stuff besides Forever Changes, but that album is just fantastic. Even when it's ridiculous it's fantastic (and it's often ridiculous, just look at the track list). The reason I chose this track is the trumpet solo that the singer sings along to. That's one of my all-time favorite moments in popular music.

Next week's pick:

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/963754 2016-01-04T22:47:22Z 2016-01-04T22:51:11Z Track Exchange: "Robson Girl", by Mac Demarco

This is the first in a series in which my mentee, Jose, and I exchange tracks that are worth hearing, and write up our immediate responses upon hearing them. You can read Jose's first post here.

Jose's first entry is "Robson Girl", by Mac Demarco.

First response:

This song is definitely somebody's summer jam, meaning this is the first time since I moved to San Diego that it feels kind of unseasonable, but it provides its own warmth. 

It starts out with a jangly guitar riff that feels to me like driving to the beach. I was immediately reminded of "Steady as She Goes" by the Raconteurs. Most of the track stays mellow, but the guitar is shimmery enough, and Demarco's voice rough enough, that it avoids the soporific levels of mellowness that you get from, say, Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz. 

Then, after meandering through the chords for a couple minutes, Demarco takes it to the bridge, with what sounds to me like a heavily distorted slide guitar. Without this break, the main riff would get pretty old, but with it, it's a shimmery, summery treat. 

I don't know anything about Mac Demarco, but the whole thing has a very British feel - I'd go so far as to say a very "britpop" feel - as if Blur had stayed cheerful when they went lo-fi -which is no bad thing

Further research:

Well I'll be, he's Canadian! Wikipedia wasn't especially forthcoming about him, except to say that he's been critically acclaimed, toured with the Japandroids (who I've been meaning to listen to for a while) and has been on Conan. I'll have to listen to more of his stuff!

An inspection of the lyrics on Genius didn't give me any insight into what a "Robson girl" is, but it did make it obvious that the song has hardly any lyrics.

Why I chose MY track this week.

My contribution to Track Exchange this week was "Drive", by REM. I felt obliged to start with something from the nineties, since that's when I went to high school. I never became a huge REM fan, but there most atmospheric songs are some of my favorite songs ever, and it doesn't get any more atmospheric than "Drive". Also, the song's posture towards music (and life in general) could not be more nineties. I mean, it's got Michael Stype deadpanning "Hey, kids, Rock n' Roll, nobody tells you where to go" with about as much inflection as Daria (look her up, Jose), but the song builds to totally sincere, lighters-in-the-air emotional climax (it's got STRINGS, for goodness' sake). And if nineties rock is about ANYTHING, it's about pretending not to care, while actually caring SO MUCH it hurts. The video matches this perfectly, with Stype staring dead-eyed into the camera and singing while crowd-surfing. 

You can read Jose's response to my track here.

My next track: "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale" by Love

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/914905 2016-01-04T22:46:46Z 2016-01-04T22:46:46Z The Tribes Project: Pictures from an Exhibition

On Monday, September 8th, the Tribes Project's final performance took place, in the Commons of High Tech High Chula Vista.


For our finale, students joined the stage saying "I belong to the tribe of ______". At the end, after I hit the cajón three times, the whole group said "We belong to the tribe of the new generation" (a phrase suggested by a student, and generally agreed on by the group - I think I was the only one who associates it with Pepsi). 

I like the dynamic of everyone streaming onstage, but one thing we never got right was the pace - a few people would trickle onstage, then EVERYBODY else came on at once, all talking. Getting a slow build (the "drizzle to rainstorm" effect) would have taken more rehearsal. And the final shouted phrase punctuated the show effectively, but I don't think anyone understood what they were saying. Maybe if we'd used a phrase that we'd introduced at the start of the show, and continued to return to at different times, the phrase would have been recognizable enough for the audience to understand it. Here are photos from the finale:


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/909731 2015-09-26T02:40:10Z 2015-09-26T04:53:44Z The Silent Teacher and the last day before showtime

Today was a first: I taught the entire day, and hardly ever spoke. This came at the end of a week of illness, and I'd been afraid it was coming for a while. I made a tag for myself that said "I've Lost My Voice" and hung it on a lanyard. Then I made a second tag that said "This Is Not A Metaphor" and put it in my pocket. 

It was a beautiful day. I started both classes with fifteen minutes of silent reading (I heard kids walk into the classroom and shout "Yes!" unironically. Giving kids time in class to silently read books of their own choosing is the one gift I would like to bestow on every new teacher. A room full of people engrossed in books feels like a sacred space. It's beautiful. It's also really easy to scan around and note who seems to be picking a new book at random every day, and who is making no progress through their book of choice, and schedule some time to give that kid the support they need. 

My first slide explained that I couldn't talk, and asked the kids for their help, and they were awesome. I got their attention by clapping twice and snapping twice in rhythm, which kids started picking up on and following, then I pointed to kids to read the next slides. I realized how often I add little asides when I'm explaining something and how unnecessary these are. There's nothing like communicating solely through pre-prepared slides and a mini-whiteboard to make you think about your words! Then we watched a spoken word piece about being an introvert (by Kevin Yang - it's very good). Then I had everyone come into the circle. I silently lifted my arms and inhaled, and dropped them slowly while exhaling, for five breaths (I'd done this yesterday, so kids knew what to do). Then rolled out my neck, and then put up a slide that said explained we were playing "Secret Leader". I quickly chose a detective and a leader, and we played. 

At this point, in the first group I put up a slide explaining they should rehearse until we did a run through, and they dispersed immediately (reasonably). 

For the second group, I explained in advance (on my whiteboard) that there were a few slides, and I would signal when we were done. 

Here are some photos (from today and yesterday) of what we've been doing (all taken by a phenomenal student photographer):

These two guys took the poems they wrote about each other based on dialogical interviews in week 1, and combined them into a single spoken-word piece. They've made this their rehearsal spot. 

 This is one of our two web designers. They're in different pods, and I've never seen them speak to each other, but they're collaborating on a site where visitors can see all our poems and self-portraits, searching either by the author of the poem, or the person the poem is about. It's still a work in progress at the time of writing, but you can see it here.

This group has written a piece enumerating the "rules" of being a girl at ages 5, 11, and right now. Lying on the floor is part of the choreography.

This is a rehearsal for a tightly-structured piece about the "tribes" of Mexico and the USA - a theme they chose. I love this photo for two reasons: first of all, they strategically write their script on whiteboards so when they perform, they seem to have them memorized - as if they've had cue cards. This is really smart, but I'm making sure they are memorizing their lines since they won't have whiteboards in the performance space! Also, I love how this picture captures one of the many odd things about high school - where else would part of a theatre company come back to rehearsals after lunch in sports uniforms?

These two are figuring out which photos are missing, as they create a slideshow of self-portraits, with live musical accompaniment. They tested this today. The group is split regarding the music. Yann Tiersen's "Comptine D'un Autre Éte" turned out to make the slideshow look a bit like, in one student's words, "a memorial". The other option we tried was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", but the pianist only knows the first four chords, so while he did a lot with those four chords, it did feel a little too repetitive. We'll be leaving that decision until the day of the performance.

Here are students composing a song for the performance - if the song isn't ready, the back-up option (for reasons I don't fully grasp) is Cake's "The Distance". 

Group building a popsicle-stick house the outer layer of which will be popsicle sticks used for the popsicle stick poems we wrote using the prompts "Home looks like/Home smells like/Home sounds like/Home feels like/Home tastes like" (credit to Zoe Randall for realizing the only sensible thing to do was build a house). I'm a little concerned that they built all the walls without using glue (I haven't asked, but I'm confident the reason for that is that "it's cool"), but it's quite a feat of engineering. 

These guys are rehearsing "the unspoken rules of the bathroom". Did you know that if all urinals but one are occupied, it's known as "checkmate"? 

This is notable because it demonstrates an ongoing issue - a strong preference for planning and arguing, rather than getting work on its feet. It's really scary to get up and try something, but if you do it, it normally takes 30 seconds to determine whether it's worth pursuing! Where as you can argue it for HOURS.

Finally, these four photos come from devising our opening. The text comes directly from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (liberally modified by us - sorry Alexie). I begin by welcoming everyone, and then I say that I’m going to read the portion of the text that inspired the project. I begin “I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe.” But then, before I can continue, a student stands on her chair to say the next line: “But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants.” Then, different students stand up on their chairs around the space, saying the next lines in the sequence. I start the final line - “And that’s when I realized…” and the entire team finishes in unison: “that I was going to be OK”. 

If I were doing this again,I wouldn’t have taken volunteers to read on the spot, with 56 kids all in the same (big, noisy) room. And this may have been a big contributing factor in my current voicelessness. But when we did the scene, it was electrifying.

Can you tell I’m excited for the performance on Monday?

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/898726 2015-08-28T14:51:49Z 2015-08-28T14:51:49Z Chikle's "Lil Bits of Magic"

My colleague Chikle (art teacher Enrique Lugo, if you want to be formal), is collecting teachers' "Lil' Bits of Magic" on his digital portfolio. It's awesome, and you can find it here.

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/897752 2015-08-26T05:10:46Z 2015-09-16T05:06:53Z Taking Habla to class Day 2

Games we played:

Wave of Clapping - started by doing "the wave", and then changed it to clapping. People volunteered to start it. Worked well, sense of achievement

Name and gesture - following Tim B's lead, I'm having six people do their name and a gesture, with the whole group repeating it, then having one other person do all six names and gestures.

Holding up arm and being quiet - an attention-getter rather than a game, but I've started occasionally timing it and telling the group how quickly we got quiet. 

I had students walk across the circle while I counted down from 10 - this is a good way to quickly shuffle a group, I discovered. 


Thoughts and questions

On the value, or lack thereof, of critique structures

This is an ongoing personal issue for me - I find that I design structures that I believe will lead to more valuable critique, and then don't feel like I have the wherewithal to enforce those structures once everyone starts working. Suddenly everyone is doing their own thing, and whatever I put up on the board and read out is (as far as I can tell) being ignored.

For the record, I provided sentence structures in order to help kids to give specific and valuable critique to each other. Here's what they were: 

“I love how you make __ sound when you say __”

“Why do you make __ sound when you say __?”

“Could you try doing __ when you say __?”

My sense is that nobody was using these - it would have been interesting to do an exit card in which I asked about whether students used them, and (if so) whether they were helpful or (if not) why not. 

Now, partly this is the condition of working with the full team, as we were doing today - with 56 kids in groups of four, all at different points in their rehearsals and all with incrementally different levels of investment in the work at hand, even if everyone's trying to do a great job and being strategic about what they do, not everyone needs the same thing in order to improve their work. Now, one issue here is that when a group has the freedom to decide what they need most (which, in my experience, is something students really value - and something I personally have always really valued), they have the freedom to make a bad choice about what they need most. By this I don't mean that they can choose to slack off, which is a different issue, but that they may eschew a strategy that would be beneficial for them in favor of one that is less beneficial. There is an opportunity for learning to take place here (evaluating the results of the strategy they chose against other possible strategies, and deciding to make a different choice in the future) but in my experience, within an hour of working on a project in a group, there are too many variables and moments of small choices to be able to parse out where things went wrong, or, even more complicated, where things went less optimally than they could have. 

The other issue, which is much easier to remedy than the first, is that I was giving students brief instructions and sending them off to carry them out (or not) independently. One of the thing Ron Berger makes very clear in the brilliant "critique" chapter of Leaders of their own Learning is that effective critique requires a lot of heavily teacher-directed critique.

Thoughts and questions about our first performance

We performed our Mango Street vignettes today. A few thoughts:

  • I want to work explicitly on volume and expression in speaking (fortunately I got some good looking books about this at the National Theatre). 
  • Hearing entire groups speaking lines together was generally very effective. It makes me interested in "scoring" more readings for different combinations of voices reading specific words and lines simultaneously, so it isn't just "one voice" or "all voices"
  • The sounds that students made with physical objects tended to the literal (imitating sounds from the world, rather than creating something musical based on evoking feelings) but their choices of who read which lines tended to be more musical, less informed by "boys should read lines by boys" thinking. 
  • There were moments when people were laughing to cover discomfort. This is likely to happen a lot this year. I want to figure out a good way into delving into why this laughter happens, and what it tells us about what is worthwhile to explore, and how to get deeper into it?

And a few questions:

  • What's the most powerful way to pick up Mango Street from here, and what do we want kids to get from reading it (or re-reading it?)
  • How will kids feel like they're getting better and better at things they want to get better and better at, and how will they feel like they're being "pushed"?
    • "pushed" feels like a verb that takes us into an unhelpful metaphor, in which the teacher is a driver of progress against the student's will, but I'm having trouble thinking of a better one. 
  • What could we have done to increase personal investment in each vignette? To make students feel more like the words they are saying MATTER and connect to (or meaningfully contrast with) their own experience of their world?
  • How can students feel like they're taking part in a project that is a big deal?


Finally, some more photos:

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/897361 2015-08-25T05:40:27Z 2015-09-17T03:33:13Z Taking Habla to my class: Day 1

No promises on how long I'll be able to maintain this for...

You can see our plan for today here, and the slides we made here. It was based on my first day at Habla, which you can read about here.

This post isn't going to make a lot of sense without looking at the plan, but here it goes:

Periods 1-2

My "prep" period is first period, and my teaching partner, Yoli's  (teaches Spanish) is second period, which meant that today, we could start the day by teaching each class together, but with 29 kids in the room together rather than 56. We started with circle games. Walking across the circle while a teacher counted down from 10 was functional, but, done with kids rather than adults, was missing the element of fun. I added "rubber chicken" to raise the energy (it was all I could think of on the fly). 

I then tried "jumping at the same time with no leader". This was fascinating - the first group just couldn't do it at all. With a new group, the risk of jumping so profoundly outweighed the risk of not jumping, that very few students were willing to try it at all. I dropped it when we worked with the second group. Something to try later in the year, maybe. 

With the first group, we then did "blind walking across the circle", which was chaotic, and not especially gentle. Talking explicitly about gentleness would be a good addition next time we do this. This is difficult, awkward territory for teenagers, especially for a lot of young men. 

The second group eventually decided to assign a helper to every person walking blind. This was (as you'd expect) very successful. What was missing even then was silence, which is not  a huge priority (especially on the first day of school) but which would be nice to have. One issue I noted, which has resonance in other aspects of school, is that a pair would walk across the circle, get into their spot on the other side, congratulate each other on a job well done and start talking - while other people were still moving through the space. 

Yoli introduced "jumping and high-fiving" in pairs, slapping as many high-fives as possible while airborne (with both hands, so I guess they were high-tens). This was the most successful warm-up game we did. Really raised the energy, and made me realize all the games I was leading were a bit austere and severe. 

This left me with a few questions: the one that's really occupying me right now is this: how do I stay on the right side of the line between routines feeling ingrained, and feeling stale?

Period 3

We had the group together for the first time. We started the period with a deep listening exercise - kids got quiet for this (for the most part), listened intently, and talked about what they heard. 

Then we tried doing the vocal improvisations (like what Dario did). I hadn't wanted to do this in the full group (we were planning to do it during periods 1 and 2 but there wasn't time), and it didn't work, for a number of reasons: 

  1. There were about 27 performers, and I just couldn't get around them fast enough.
  2. Most people didn't have and extensive rhythmic vocabulary (at least in this context), so everyone was generally hammering out quarter notes together.
  3. Making vocal sounds is a big risk in a large group of people, so most people were going for clapping and stomping, which stops being interesting very quickly, unless you're really tight with it.

I got five volunteers who performed for the whole group, and it worked much more smoothly in a group of five. Then we split everyone into fives, and up until lunch, they worked on crafting beats together. 

I didn't call them "beats". If I had, the exercise would have probably been stronger. When one group performed their beat for me, I freestyled a short rhyme over it. Then we had another group perform for everyone (in fact, the original group of volunteers, who'd got very into developing their beat). Their beat was solid and complex, but when I heard it I realized that they were really putting themselves on the line and might ultimately regret it, so in front of everyone, I did another freestyle over their beat - which I hope lent it credibility rather than overshadowing it. 

Periods 4-6

This was after advisory and lunch. We launched Write Club - I realized my enthusiasm for the concept waned a little since last year, so I need to figure out how I feel about it. One kid rather brilliantly noted that the first rule of Write Club (which I was making them write, as I always have) was "Write what you care about", and asked "so should we write what we care about, or write this?"

I dug up the Fight Club and "Robot Club" (from Spaced) clips I showed last year, which I hadn't planned to show, when I realized that the way I was presenting Write Club didn't have any mystique, and it really needs mystique at the start. 

Then we wrote Hopes and Fears, and I introduced Human Atom in order to shuffle people up and make groups of four to share hopes and fears. There were too many people for the atom to work very well, but it was easy to identify issues with it, and I think we'll be able to fine-tune it in individual classes. 

After this, we introduced the day's big task: to arrange a chapter from The House on Mango Street to read together as a group of four - first arranged as a "clear reading", and then with sounds made by objects found around the classroom.

This was so awesome: we divided kids into groups randomly, which I imagined being a problem, but wasn't. They were attentive to the text as they read, and (after Yoli and I modeled it) seemed to understand how to divide the text for reading without any further help. 

After they'd worked on the "clear reading", Yoli and I performed our chapter again, this time with her reading and me providing sound accompaniment. Then the groups went to town on sound effects.

At a certain point, most groups decided they were "done" and people started milling about and hanging around.

I paused the full group (I'd done some "getting quiet" practice - this will be good to keep doing all week). Then I said "A lot of groups are telling me they're done. What if I told you that you're going to perform for the entire ninth grade in a few minutes?" Someone immediately shouted "WHAAAAAT?!" "You're not," I said, "but you all sounded a lot less "done" when I said that just now." 

The groups paired up with other groups and performed their pieces for each other. I encouraged everyone to focus on giving specific feedback about things they liked. This will be something to continue to develop.

It was cool to see so much attentive close-reading. I'm excited to see and hear the performances tomorrow!

Here are some photos from devising the readings:

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/897340 2015-08-25T01:46:22Z 2015-08-25T01:46:34Z Real Talk about the back-to-school "Honeymoon Period"

I just got home from my first day of school, and it was a delight. "Well", a chorus of teachers will reply, "of course it was. You're in the honeymoon period. Just wait a week or so, and you'll find out what the year is REALLY going to be like." 

Ah yes, the "honeymoon period" - the few halcyon days when it seems like the sailing will be smooth all year, when students are on their best behavior, and intra-class resentments and dubious work habits have been temporarily put in check. 

Until this year, I've accepted the premise of the "honeymoon period" without examining it, but today, I've got some stuff to say:

1. Nobody should ever use the phrase "honeymoon period" when talking to a first-year teacher

Imagine this scene: It's 3:35 in the afternoon on a Monday in late August. For the first time in your life, you've spent your day teaching entire classes worth of children (or teenagers), and miraculously, everyone has made it through unscathed. The students paid attention (at least sometimes) when you spoke. The visions you'd dreamed up at home actually came to life in your classroom. And, to a greater degree than you ever thought possible, people accepted the idea that you are a figure with authority. 

You stagger into the staff room, and one of your colleagues asks "How did it go?" 

"It actually went really great!" you reply, punch-drunk and slurring your words slightly. 

"Yeah", your colleague replies. "Isn't the honeymoon period great?"

"Honeymoon period?" You ask.

"Yeah, you know, when the kids are all trying to impress you, before they decide they don't really need to listen to you."

And just like that, you discover that you weren't working magic after all.

Never say "honeymoon period" to a first year teacher. It's unconscionable. Don't tell any first year teachers about this blog post either. 

2. The first hour of teaching has nothing to do with any kind of "honeymoon period"

This just be me, but from my first day as a teacher to this very morning, I have never had a strong first hour of the year. It's a matter of rhythm. Everything I've planned was designed based on a memory of students from two months ago, rather than a response to what students are looking for. If there isn't a name for this, there should be. I suggest "awkward first hour" as a working title.

3. The "honeymoon period" isn't all about students

Here's a formulation I came up with while I was driving home today: the "honeymoon period" ends at the point when the teacher and the students are all too tired to continue to present the selves they want to be. 

This feels to me like what it's all about. We all have aspirational versions of ourselves, freed from our accumulated bad habits, and we come back to school inhabiting those versions. But after a few days, we fall into our old habits. Students who were attempting unspoken truces with long-time rivals fall back into a rhythm of mutual injury and resentment. Equally importantly, teachers who came in with a sense of benign understanding for students' least productive manifestations of anxiety find ourselves falling back into a sense of resentment of students who "would definitely get so much out of this if they'd just give it a try". 

I've never heard anyone talk about the "honeymoon period" as if it applied to teacher behaviors as well as student behaviors. If we're going to keep using that term, I think we should.

Just don't tell any teachers about it until their second year in the job. 

 

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/896897 2015-08-23T22:08:14Z 2015-08-23T22:09:18Z A "Table of Contents" for the Habla Teacher Institute
I've come to realize that I'm too confused by the chronology of my #Habla blog posts for them to be useful, so I'm sure that's true for anyone else trying to use them as well!

So I've created a little "table of contents" of what we did each day:

Saturday (Part 1, Part 2)

“The Sound of Light”

Circle games (jumping, trust walking)

Listening meditation

Group vocal improvisation

Going outside and listening

Using found objects to recreate a soundscape (in a group)

3-2-1 reflection

Reading “Light is Like Water”

Building Conversation Protocol

Back to “soundscape” groups: create a “clear reading” of an assigned passage from “Light is Like Water”

Watch/listen to model of “reading with sounds” by Kurt & Dario

In Soundscape Groups: revise our reading, add sounds.

Perform readings for the group

“The Faun on the Bus”

Excerpt from Living to Tell the Tale and brief lecture on magical realism from Marimar

In groups of 6: “I could tell you about” [maybe good to take notes on this…]

In pairs: “I want to hear about…”, “I can imagine…”

Back in the FULL group: “Can you imagine…”


Monday 

Circle game: Your name & something people can’t tell by looking at you

Human knot

Walking through the space

Roofs and shelter

Framing images

People/places/objects/memories that frame my life

Free write

Sharing “golden lines”

“How we are framed” performance

Skewers & Styrofoam Balls


Tuesday (Part 1, Part 2)

Reflection: Connect, Extend, Challenge

Workshop 1: Framing a photo and Editing a Story

Workshop 2: Working with 100 Years of Solitude

Reading fragments of a text in a circle

Group reads the who’ll passage out loud, together

Choose a line from the text and frame it with a sharpie

Discuss with a partner using “See Think Wonder”

Write “wondering” in a different color on the paper, and give to a curator.

Lunch

Read a passage that creates a “portrait” of a character (choose one from the cordel)

Find someone who read the same passage and do a walk-stop-talk-walk

Frame a line, write a question next to it

As a full group, make a list of techniques the author uses to make portraits of characters

Quick game: sound and gesture

Workshop 3: Creating masks based on the things and people that frame us


Wednesday:

Reflection: 

  • 3 applications
  • 2 questions
  • 1 metaphor or analogy

Workshop 1: Taking self-portrait photographs

Workshop 2: Collaborative Mind Map

Workshop 3: Labelling our world (Like in Macondo)


Thursday: 

Opening reflection:

  • What makes you say “wow”?
  • What do you wonder about?

Game: trading walks

Kata takes us through the week so far, and how each day built on the last

Writing: 

  • the “memory machine”
  • Looking at our self-portrait and engaging all our senses
  • Telling a story based on what we’ve been writing

Human atom

Human sculptures

Rehearsal


Friday:

Warm-up: passing the invisible object

The facilitators share how they designed this year’s institute

Group reflection based on photos taken during the week

Reflecting about potential applications for what we’ve done.

Final rehearsals

Performance

Closing the loop with a final reflection


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/894407 2015-08-17T02:09:00Z 2015-08-17T02:09:01Z The Forgotten #Habla Game: Trading Walks

I can't believe I forgot to write this game down, and I now can't remember when we played it, but it was good. 

Players line up facing each other (it's good if it's not 100% clear who your "partner" will be). 

Start at either end of the two lines. The two "end" people each choose a walk, and walk towards each other. When their paths cross, each person takes the other person's walk, and finishes walking to the other line doing their walk. Go down the lines until everyone has changed places. 

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/893548 2015-08-14T05:29:45Z 2015-08-14T05:29:45Z My inner Principal Snyder

On Sunday, I had an idea for a way that students in my class could write reflectively. To be honest, I don't remember the details of the idea (the new school year is approaching fast, and I've been having lots of ideas about stuff like this). However, I vividly remember the thoughts that came next. Almost immediately, I thought "what's going to make a kid keep up with doing this, if it doesn't immediately strike them as useful? How will I be able to make sure it's getting done? If I'm not able to keep track of it, or even to keep doing it, after I start, will it make all my expectations seem less stable and more prone to being abandoned?" 

Now, this litany of doubts often follows the arrival of a new teaching idea in my head. All the doubts and concerns are reasonable, but they aren't particularly useful at that moment. Until Sunday, however, I hadn't given them must thought. 

But on Sunday I was thinking about school during a "restorative yoga" class - which is an hour of lying down in various positions and listening to extremely gentle music. And in this context, I realized that when my new idea got all these questions fired at it, my neck and shoulders actually tensed up. It didn't feel conducive either to developing new ideas, or indeed having a healthy back. 

So I thought about the voice, and realized I could picture it - it looked like Principal Snyder, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think this is partly because Snyder thinks of teenagers entirely as potential threats to order, who will take any opportunity to game the system. And it's partly because he's constantly tense, and has a notably annoying voice. So I'm trying to take note when my Principal Snyder voice kicks in, and not let it take over my thinking. 

I'll finish this with two lines, this one from Snyder's first episode:

Kids today need discipline. That's an unpopular word these days - discipline. I know Principal Flutie would have said, "Kids need understanding. Kids are human beings." That's the kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten. 

And this exchange with school librarian Rupert Giles:

Snyder: The first day back. It always gets me. One day the campus is completely bare. Empty. The next, there are children everywhere. Like locusts. Crawling around, mindlessly bent on feeding and mating. Destroying everything in sight in their relentless, pointless desire to exist.
Giles: Have you ever considered, given your abhorrence of children, school's principal was not, perhaps, your true vocation?
Snyder: Somebody's got to keep an eye on them. 
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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/892120 2015-08-10T18:16:38Z 2015-08-16T19:40:38Z Friday: Performance and Reflection

You can read Arnie Aprill's write-up of today (with lots of photos) here.

Had I been in charge of Friday, I would have devoted the entire day to preparing for our performance, mostly with unstructured work time and a couple of structured critiques, focused on smoothing out the rough edges. This was not their approach. Instead, we started the day with a discussion of how the week was designed, and why they made the choices they did. Here are the nitty-gritty details (to the extent that I remember them):

Kurt started us off with a brief introduction, and Marimar told us about lunch. Marimar always gave what amounted to mini-lecture about lunch: what we'd be eating, who made it, and how they were connected to the school. During this talk, Kurt said one thing that really blew my mind:

Back when I was working with the Coalition of Essential Schools, we found that "presentations of learning" got pretty boring and repetitive, so we started doing "performances of learning" instead. That's what we're doing today.

I'm not quoting this in order to dismiss Presentations of Learning, but I have personally found that the ones I have facilitated too often become repetitive. The notion of giving a performance, rather than a "presentation", resonates with me. 

Warm-up: passing the invisible object

We all stood in a circle for this. The first person started with an invisible "ball", shaped it into a recognizable object, and passed it to their neighbor, who took it as it was handed to them, then shaped it into something new and passed it along - all silently - until it made its way all the way around the circle.

How the Habla Team designed this year's institute...

This is taken from my notes from the explanation that the team gave, which are frankly a little sketchy. They used the principles of backwards design, beginning with what they wanted us to learn and then coming up with the workshops that would take us in the direction of those goals, but the specific starting point for the Institute when they started planning it last year was 100 Years of Solitude itself, because Gabriel Garcia Marquez had just died. They were also interested in "framing" as a concept, and the Institute was born from those two things. 

The question of "Learning Objectives"

The team wrote down "learning objectives" for each day, but decided not to share them with the teachers, because they didn't feel like they did justice to the potential range of things that could emerge from the institute, so they didn't share them with us. 

The photo-based reflection

I am DEFINITELY using this with my class. Kurt went through a slide show of photos taken during the week, and as a group we suggested "meanings" that we saw in the photos. Partway through, Kurt said "these are SO much richer than our learning objectives!"

I don't know if anyone wrote down what was being said (I certainly didn't) but I hope someone wrote down at least a few. This was a magnificent way to reflect on the week. 

The "applications" reflection

On another of our sheets of paper, we wrote potential applications for what we've done this week in our classrooms. Here's what I wrote:

The last rehearsals

As a big group, we rehearsed a sequence in which each of us said the "I am framed by" sentence that we'd performed in our groups on Tuesday. I didn't feel that invested in my little phrase, and I never got that excited by this sequence, since it took a long time, and it didn't feel to me like in most cases our sentences were the most resonant things we'd come up with during the week. Also, by necessity this was the only component of the entire week that was fully directed by the team, which felt uncomfortable given the facilitative approach and emphasis on "distributed leadership" during the rest of the week. 

Then we got back into our small groups, and I relaxed again. I loved working in our group of five. We added my lion mask to the final vignette and choreographed it (which we hadn't yet done), then ran through it all a couple of times. Then it was lunchtime.

After the fact, Kurt showed us the five-layer structure that had been designed for devising our pieces:

  1. Writing
  2. Three human sculptures: beginning, middle, end.
  3. Narration and movement
  4. Masks and props
  5. Music

The performance

We were playing music in the performance, and nobody had rehearsed at all - either with each other, or with the groups. This made me really uncomfortable, since I was conscious of how precise our group had been about the words we used, and about creating minimal distraction onstage, and music performed by people who had never seen our performance could potentially seriously shift the balance. But in the event, it was wonderful, and there was a melody that started to build over the final vignette that was beautiful, and added enormously to the piece (I want to say it was a violin melody from Marji, but it may also have been guitar. I was engaged with remembering what I'd written at the time!). 

Also, before the performance the musicians went outside to jam a bit, and just release some tension (so we DID actually play together once before the show), and ended up jamming with Arnoldo improvising lyrics, as the rest of the group came pouring out the door into the yard, because they were coming out for a group photo. It was a magical moment. 

Then, when we all got together for a group photo (we were instructed to be on multiple levels, ("like those old magazine ads for the Sopranos" in Kurt's words). Someone started singing "Lean on Me", I picked it up on sax, and we ended up doing a full-group "Lean on Me" singalong during the group photo. Spirits were high.

I spent the show itself tense up until our piece, curiously emotionally disengaged as I performed it (which didn't really surprise me - performance is weird), and shocked when people laughed during our piece. I hadn't had a sense of humor about any of it (either the piece itself, or the stories I was relating), so I hadn't been aware it would have that effect. I loved the other pieces, though - they were extraordinary (I have no idea how our piece looked, since I was in front narrating and didn't want to turn around and watch what my fellow performers were doing. There are entire sequences of movements in the third vignette that I've never seen.

Here's a photo from the finale of the performance (I took it from Marji's Facebook post, not sure who took it):

The final "closing the loop" reflection

After the performance, we all came back to our circle in the air conditioned room for a final shared reflection. What we were doing was a lot like HTH's "Connections", but it was slightly less ritualized (I mean, EVERYTHING is less ritualized than the opening of Connections), there was no "only speak once" policy, and we had a choice of prompts for our reflections, which were designed to keep them to one sentence. Here were the prompts:
  • I used to think _________, but now I think _________.
  • I used to think _________, but now I wonder _________.
  • I used to think _________, and I still think _________.

I wasn't crazy about these prompts, for two reasons:

  1. They put you in a position of eithertestifying to your personal transformation, or declaring the week to be a failure (because if you still think what you did before, what was the point of the week?)
  2. They don't give you a means of indicating what the agent of this change was, which means that the implied end of each sentence is "because of Habla", (as opposed to "because of X workshop", or "because of Y group I was in", or "because of a late-night conversation I had with Z")

I talked to the team about my misgivings afterwards, and I know none of these were intended (I also don't know whether other people felt this way). They were actually designed as a means of avoiding extended testimonials, both in order to keep the final reflection from feeling too evangelical and to make sure that there was time for everyone to speak. I believe this is a structure from Project Zero, and it's still one I might use myself, but I think I'd use it following a single Socratic Seminar (which is low-stakes enough that you could say "I haven't changed my mind" without feeling like a jerk). 

I also (and this is very much a personal thing) feel a general aversion to talking at length about how great a shared experience was, no matter how great it was. This kind of thing makes me think of an exchange in Hemingway's short story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", in which the wealthy Macomber talks to his laconic guide, Wilson, after Macomber has finally had success in killing some animals:

"Do you have that feeling of happiness about what's going to happen?" Macomber asked, still exploring his new wealth.

"You're not supposed to mention it," Wilson said, looking in the other's face. "Much more fashionable to say you're scared. Mind you, you'll be scared too, plenty of times."

But you have a feeling of happiness about action to come?"

"Yes," said Wilson. "There's that. Doesn't do to talk too much about all this. Talk the whole thing away. No pleasure in anything if you mouth it up too much.

There is a great deal not to love about this particular story, and I don't know whether Wilson's make on "talking the whole thing away" holds up to scrutiny or not, but I've definitely felt both Macomber's impulse to talk and Wilson's reticence about it. 

Anyway, I've now spent many more words on one of the few things about the week I was uncomfortable with than about any of the things that I found mind-blowing and transformative (since one doesn't speak of such things, obviously) so I'm going to move on. 

The party

This is definitely a part of Habla. At 7:30, prepaid taxis came downtown to pick us up and take us to Marimar and Kurt's house for a party "that will never end". There was food, there was another jam session, there was dancing, and there was lots of conversation. I stayed until about 1 AM, disregarding the fact that I would be catching a taxi to the airport at 5:30. 

The fact that the week ends literally at our hosts' home, with dancing, music, and delicious food, is the perfect way to end a magical week. 


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/891163 2015-08-07T00:19:35Z 2015-08-16T19:41:53Z Thursday - Living the possible: the story outside the frame
You can read Arnie Aprill's write-up of today (with lots of photos) here.

Opening Reflection:

Think back on yesterday...

  1. what makes you say "wow"?
  2. what do you wonder about?

The Week so Far

Kata showed us a helpful slide that laid out what we'd done every day. It was shown as a cycle, with Day 4 pointing back to Day 1 (in other words, indicating that we will be returning to the themes of Day 1 today).

Day 1 - Navigating by Light

  • I could you a tell a story about...
  • I can imagine...
  • Can you imagine...?

Day 2 - What frames our lives

Day 3 - Framing photos/Framing Macondo

  • Finding stories in photos
  • Looking at the portraits in 100 Years of Solitude

Day 4 - Portraits and Memory

And so today (Day 5) we are back to navigating by light.

Our first writing exercise - the memory machine

This is also based on yesterday's reading about insomnia and forgetting in Macondo. One character proposes building a "memory machine", that you could quickly review in order to relearn all your important memories. So we made a list of the memories that we would put in our own "memory machine." In order to do this, we looked back at "what frames us" (from Monday), but I found myself going in different directions (which was especially satisfying, since I'd felt like my memory was failing me a bit when we did this on Monday). 

My memory machine entries feel too personal to post on here, but (strictly for my own reference, they're on pages 46-47 of my notebook.

I'm pretty sure we talked about what we wrote with a partner, but I wouldn't put money on it. 

Our second writing exercise - looking at our self-portrait and engaging all our senses

We now listed sensory images evoked by our self-portraits. Here's what I wrote:

We definitely talked about this with a partner, and in talking, I realized that "climbing a tree" works well for me as an analogy for writing. I started thinking about this because I thought about how as you climb, your vision narrows to "my possible routes" - everything becomes either something that you can reach (and will support your weight) or something that can't. Also, it's hard, as you go up, to work out how you're going to get back down. My partner (I'm 90% sure it was Rob) also pointed out that when you're climbing a tree, your perspective on what you can see around you changes with every step. I didn't end up pursuing this idea in my writing, but I really like it. 

Third writing exercise: telling a story

At this point, we used what we'd just written as a jumping-off point for writing a story from our lives (or someone else's life). This drew on everything we've done this week. I called mine "Climbers", and wrote a series of vignettes about climbing. This was inspired by the fact that I knew I wanted my self-portrait to be in a tree, but I didn't know why that felt important until I started writing about it. But once I started writing about climbing, things got very intense very quickly. I was writing about being an older brother, being a son, recovering from heart surgery, and being an uncle. Earlier in the week, Jessica told me "something will break open inside you this week", and I thought "Naaaaaaaah, I don't think so." Turns out she was right. 

We got a "beginning-middle-end" graphic organizer. I completely ignored mine, but there should be a copy of the graphic organizer on Arnie's website

Human Atom and Human Sculptures

After we wrote our first drafts, we wrote an image from our story down onto a notecard and gave it to Kurt. Then we went into the gallery space, and started walking between an outside wall and the center of the room, so that we were naturally all moving in different directions. He had us move with more urgency, and then stand back to back with somebody (calling "stand back to back" very quickly). 

[procedural note: what I hadn't understood about this technique until I did it, is that because you can stand back-to-back so quickly, and because the desire not to get left out is very high, there really isn't time to seek out a particular person to stand back-to-back with - or at least, that's how it felt for us. But I think that this at least has the potential to be a partner-selecting method that makes finding ANY partner feel more important than finding a specific partner, which is a bit of a classroom holy grail, for me anyway].

Once we were back to back with someone, Kurt read a phrase from one of the notecards, and we had a few seconds to (silently) create a human sculpture (just the two of us) that embodied the phrase he read out. For one of the images, he also had us get into threes. 

Preparing for our final performance

We counted off in order to be in groups of five to prepare our final performance for Friday. By extraordinary coincidence, all the HTHCV people ended up in the same group, so I swiftly traded out with another group and joined them instead. Each of us read our stories out loud. Kurt told us that given time constraints, we couldn't "collage" our stories - we needed to choose one story and develop it. The group chose my series of vignettes, so I chose three vignettes out of my five to be the basis for our piece.

Human Sculptures revisited

After we'd had some time to choose a text for our performance piece, we all got back together as one big group in the gallery space to create human sculptures again - this time for the "beginning" image, "middle" image, and "end" image. At this point I wished I'd actually used that beginning-middle-end graphic organizer, and we weren't able to come up with any shapes that felt very generative. We were actually generally pretty behind at this point in the process. 

More rehearsal time

For the rest of the day, we just rehearsed. I've got one photo from the process, which shows the group striking poses to embody the feeling of being a frustrated two-year-old:

Kurt had advised us to pursue the goal of "distributed leadership" (harking back to the jumping exercise at the beginning of Saturday). It was a useful reminder, because the urge to take control and enact a vision was pretty intense (for me, anyway). 

What was really surprising to me was that I found it pretty much impossible to get through the vignettes I'd written without my voice starting to break into sobs. There is one moment I remember in particular: Kata was "playing" my then five-year-old brother in the first vignette, swinging off the branch of a tree, and falling on her arm and breaking it. She had found a position that put her arm at an alarming angle, and, in telling the story, I turned around to look back at her. It was a shock to turn around and see her - even though the representation was nothing like how I remembered the event, it took me right back to that moment. The group could tell how much I was affected. Of course, this was no guarantee that the audience would be similarly affected, but it still energized the group. 

I went home that night, rewrote each vignette by hand in the Cafe Creme (just down the street from our hacienda, and fantastic), and then typed them up. 

Thursday night: La Palabra at Tapanco Centro Cultural

Alejo invited us all to a special performance of La Palabra, put on by the theatre company he's a part of. The show was to open the next night, so this was basically an open dress rehearsal. The performance takes up the whole cultural center, with different performances in each room. All of them are riffs on Samuel Beckett's short plays, except for Laurel and Hardy and the boxes of light, which is inspired by a scene from a Paul Auster Novel.

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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/890701 2015-08-05T23:44:46Z 2015-08-16T19:42:01Z Wednesday: Portraits and Memory
You can read Arnie Aprill's write-up of today (with lots of photos) here

Starting with Reflection

We wrote our reflections on another note card (as we did yesterday) and turned them in. Here's the thinking routine we used:

3-2-1

3 applications (ways you can apply what you learned)

2 questions

1 metaphor or analogy

Workshop 1: self-portraits

Cynthia and Ana Paula led this. They started with a slide show of professional models of black-and-white photo portraits, from photographers including Flor Garduño, Luis Rosales Palma, Irving Penn, and Francesca Woodman). As we looked at each photo, they elicited characteristics of the photos from us, and wrote them down on the whiteboard. Cynthia and Ana Paula also took time to give quick, impromptu lecture on things like the rule of thirds. 

There were lots of photos, but they were fascinating - I didn't want it to end!

We formed groups of three. Each person "directed" their own portrait, but the other two were there both to take photographs (on smartphones) and to (literally) offer different perspectives. The only directive was that the photos should be black and white. Cynthia suggested using the "noir' filter on the iPhone, but this was a suggestion.

Side comment: there's a fundamental difference between a "filter" and a "template". Both can make your work look more professional and real, but a template reduces your agency and creative freedom, (I'm thinking especially of those "movie trailer" templates in iMovie) whereas a filter expands your options rather than limiting them.

I knew I wanted to be in a tree for my photo, but that was all I knew. Here are some of the photos that my partners, Claire and Maritza took, that I was considering:

And here's the one that I ultimately chose:

The next day, the facilitators had printed out our portraits and put them on the wall of the gallery space. Here's how it looked:

Workshop 2: collaborative mind map

1. Two students (prompted in advance, neither one dominant in most full-group discussions) read the passage from 100 Years of Solitude in which the villagers become insomniac and start losing their memories. To combat this, they start labelling EVERYTHING.

2. Individually, go through the text and select a word or a phrase of no more than 7-8 words

3. Write the word/phrase in the middle of a blank piece of paper, using a colored marker. 

4. Pass it to the left, add to the conversation, and keep passing (we did this in our own time, not being told by Kurt when to pass).

5. On your new paper you can...

  1. respond directly to the word or phrase
  2. elaborate on others' ideas
  3. ask questions
  4. respond to someone else's ideas
  5. add a connection to the reading, or the book
  6. add a connection to another book, film, etc.
  7. Make a connection to your own life

6. When we stop, read all the comments on your paper, and add one comment.

7. Choose a really interesting contribution to yours. Share it with your neighbor. 

Here's a scan of my mind map:

Workshop 3: labelling our world (after Macondo)

This workshop, led by Cynthia, started from the same excerpt as the one we used in Workshop 2, as well as from Ruth Krauss's book of definitions as given by five-year-olds, A Hole is to Dig.

After reading a few of the definitions from A Hole is to Dig, Cynthia demonstrated what she wanted us to do by sticking two neon-colored note cards on the wall. The first said Wall/Pared, and the second said "To lean against."

We took six notecards each, and went all over the building, labelling objects and providing their definitions, in the style of A Hole is to Dig. We were encouraged both to label objects with definitions, and add definitions to already-labelled objects. 

After we'd really gone to town, we did a brief gallery walk, writing down objects and definitions we really liked. 

Here are a couple photos of our labels:

At this point, we came back to the tables, and in groups, we shared our definitions and used the words we'd written down to create a new text on a big sheet of paper (with the rule that we couldn't add words, but we could rearrange them).

Dinner: at Lo Que Hay

Dinner needs a special mention: a four-course vegan meal next to a swimming pool, all cooked in an outdoor kitchen: soup, tacos, a tamale with some kind of avocado sauce, and piña colada sorbet, plus all the jamaica we could drink (and I really pushed the limits on that). Here's a photo Tere took of the kitchen:

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Alec Patton