Thursday, July 29, 2021

Summer School 2021: A Rock, an Apple, a Box, and a Stick


There was an earthquake. And a tornado. Literally. Not to worry, the natural disasters were outside classtime -- most of the kids I asked said they were sleeping during the afternoon when the 3.something quake hit and I WAS TOO, lol, napping or maybe rising or sinking into my siesta when I felt something like a heavy bookcase falling over downstairs. Or maybe a loaded truck hitting a bump on the street outside. 

"Nora..." I thought as I sank back into sleep. The song we used to sing was "Crash, bang, crash-bang-boom, something's going on in Nora's room."

The only sign of the tremor were two little chotchkes knocked over on the windowsill that sits over the kitchen sink -- the chotchkes didn't break, they didn't even fall far -- the faucet caught them, I righted the little ceramic Russian girl and the waving cat and they went on with their business.

The tornado warning, on the other hand, was at bedtime and we bored of the basement ten minutes after we descended, twenty minutes before the warning was over. Such is life. Hurry up and wait. Boredom levied by crisis.

Our genuine excitement was of another kind, of the family kind that I used to write about with detail and fervor and only a twinge of wondering how posterity would look at our little foursome's capers. Now the girls are older teens, one technically an adult, so I must be more circumscript for us all. So...

I'll focus on the classroom. 

The room itself was double-sized this time, two rooms that could be separated by an accordioning divider but that we left wide and open, to give us all room to play and wander and get away if needed. And my roster had HALF the kids of the last summer school stint, only ten or so in one class of juniors and the same in a class of freshmxn. 

No kids taking the classes for "enrichment" this time...they were all here for Credit Recovery, that is, students who had Incompletes or Audits or Failures or Drops or whatever the many reasons for not passing Freshmxn English or the junior class American Literature and Composition and U.S. History, which we pronounce as "Alcush." 

Add double pay to the double prep and the double room and the halved roster AND halve the time too...two hours for each class. No problem for me. I got this.

"Focus on the skills," said my boss. My sophomore-teaching colleague advised, "I'd like them to come into my class being able to write a solid paragraph."

And so that's what we did. Punctuation, capitalization and number-writing rules. Letter-writing format and tone. The parts of speech, (well, the ones I deemed most important, that is, the verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and conjunctions. I hate adverbs. I can tell you more about that later. And prepositions? We can skip those this time around. And interjections? HEY, they're my favorites, but WOW, that's all I needed to say.)

Skills and more skills: Facts vs Opinions, General vs. Specific, Claims Vs. Evidence. Clauses and phrases, complete sentences vs. run-ons and fragments. (And with a few students who used fragments with beauty, style and purpose, I was able to point and identify their good work and encourage them to keep on truckin'.)

And building paragraphs and using a chain of cause and effect when building a logical story or argument, which as the Famous Book says, everything is, right? 

(Note to self: Ask dear colleague Christine to teach me more about "avoiding commentary in the warrant" as some of her students have said...)

So I am content with my work with their writing skills in the limited time we had. Reading, writing and argument from EACH and EVERY child every day is my goal and I know I didn't make it but we will keep pushing.

Here were some of the highlights...and the lowlights that came at the very end because pride goeth before a fall. 


MY LIBERATION IS TIED UP WITH MY STUDENTS' LIBERATION. I thanked them at the end for their patience with me and asked them to consider how the kids I teach later, the little ones who are children now but will be freshmxn and juniors soon, will benefit from this training ground. THE STUDENTS before me were my teachers and I hope I have the grace and wisdom to keep reflecting on what they told me.

"Give a fish a man, and he'll eat for a week" said the witty ones, the ones who chose the front row, the so-called "smart" ones, no less or more intelligent than any other children in the room. But oh, they were my little colleagues, so much like me, nerdy, word-players, rule-followers. It was the back of the room kids...and the middle of the room kids who had much to teach me.

The Stick.  I chose the film Minari to use as the primary text of the course with both my freshmxn and juniors. Subtitles are a beautiful ensures that every line of poetry of the script is right in front of the kids and me. "Minari is a gift that keeps on giving," I said over and over to any teacher friend who asked about summer school. An amazing and endlessly rich text that offered more and more depth the more we watched and re-watched. The kids ate it up...and laughed at the pee jokes and gasped at the surprises and argued over the mom's desires for a better life and brought up their own families' experiences that were similar to that of the Yi family...

...and I DIDN'T HAVE TO DO A THING. All I had to do was play and pause periodically. I MAY NEVER DO A FILM "STUDY GUIDE" AGAIN! What is the friggin' point of making the kids stop and write answers to simple comprehension questions? To assess their understanding? Um...can we do that orally?

The kids DID write about the film in Canvas discussions and in Claim-Context-Evidence-Warrant paragraphs, just not WHILE we were watching. I don't want them to take their eyes off the screen. I don't want them to be distracted by "Work" they "Should" be doing instead of being swept up in the experience. It was a beautiful thing.

But the Minari, recurring images of sticks creates a motif illuminating themes of yearning and resilience. The father consults a dowser to find water on his farm. He uses another stick for discipline...with surprisingly hilarious results. 

The Stick, along with the Box and the Rock, are the classic toys, the original toys, right?

Note: ...I'm a gonna publish this and I'm a gonna go lay down.

 To be continued

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