Monday, March 28, 2011

Staying late

I can always tell when a major project is due for our intermediate students. The library, usually quite crowded during their open recess periods, becomes jam-packed, and there are plenty of requests by groups to come in during lunch or stay after school. On Friday, March 25, 2011, there were groups of grade 7&8s working on their geography music mash-ups, history monologues, cultural dances, and volleyball team secret scrapbook project for their coaches. It was quite a challenge to get it quiet enough for people to record while others danced, talked, planned, and chatted. School ends at 3:30 p.m. and at 5:00 p.m. the last group started to pack up when a single student asked me if I was leaving too. He had hung out, reading, waiting until everyone had left, so that he could do his recording with no witnesses. He also wanted my assistance, because he said he was very computer-illiterate. I tried not to sigh as I put my coat away and went to check Twitter at the circulation computer so he could have some privacy. He chose to sing along to an instrumental version of his song, and even though I promised not to listen, it was hard not to notice that he had a great voice. He got stuck when he had to send the file, so I showed him how to convert the Garageband file to a MP3 and how to email that file to the teacher. He wasn't aware that he had a school-given email address of his own, so I told him how to log on. He said I was going a bit too fast, so I wrote it down and showed him on the screen. He said it out loud to himself and reviewed my notes so that he'd remember. Finally, at about 5:30 p.m., after deciding he'd do the final recording at home on his father's iMac, he got ready to leave.

"Hey, Mz Molly? Thanks for spending all that time helping me. You were really patient."

That made the extra 30 minutes at school on a Friday afternoon worthwhile.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Plotting Osric - my "web presence"

I've taken to talking about Osric as if he's a real but separate person, and I have a feeling that he'd be utterly delighted at the week-long focused attention he's been getting on my blog. (He was a bit miffed he didn't get quoted on the secondary blog that Danika, our Twitter director, has created for high school students and teachers interested in following the action. I passed along the message to her. It was the least I could do for the guy.)

I should mention that I've never studied drama, although my husband will testify that I'm a bit of a ham. In elementary school, I was in all the school-wide operettas. Thankfully, my mother still has most of the plays on what was then the new-fangled VHS tape technology. Once I got to high school, I took a drama class and I tried out for the school play. I was required to sing as part of the audition. I was unprepared, so I sang the first thing that came to my head. That was, unfortunately, a Caribbean song that was banned from the airways when it first was played in the 1960s due to the ribald nature of the lyrics. I was in grade 9 at the time, and completely mortified and horrified. That pretty much ended any aspirations I had of "doing" drama.

I think teaching is a lot like acting - you need to engage your audience, make your viewers believe what you need them to ("this is REALLY important to learn and SO not boring") and want them to connect with you emotionally. I took my Intermediate Certification and I chose my teachable subject to be drama. I took the AQ course in the summer and it was one of the best classes I ever participated in. It was fun, mentally engaging, and so useful! I think I went a bit overboard when I scrawled graffiti on the board "in character" - a guest lecturer came to do some "drama with music", and the visiting instructor was not as good as our regular teacher; I channeled the annoyance into my character (we were riffing on the poem Richard Cory and we were characters in the inquest and my character, a old school chum of Rick's, was pretty mad that the leader of the inquest - the visiting drama coach - wouldn't let the poor man rest). If my drama AQ instructor is reading this, then sorry for taking things too far. If any of my Twitter Hamlet cast mates are reading this, then I promise not to go overboard by challenging strangers to a duel or something similarly crazy.

Speaking of the Twitter cast - the other players are absolutely incredible! I love the Wikileaks and the security camera footage and news reports that people have created. It has inspired me to try and rise to the high standards they set. I'm nowhere near as technologically talented as they are, but I started up a Goodreads account for Osric. It made me think of those "RAFT" differentiated learning tasks we're encouraged to provide for our students. I couldn't just post any ol' book I was reading - I had to think about whether or not Osric would actually read this book, and what take he'd have on it. He deliberately does not place any stars on his reviews, because he wants to hear what others think before he commits to an opinion. I need to do more things, so if people have any suggestions, please let me know.

One final observation: on my own personal Twitter feed, it listed other people it thought I should follow, as @Osric_2011 was one of them. He'd love it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plotting Osric - "My books"

During the March Break, I went to the library to borrow some books - for Osric. I skimmed through the shelves and used a list of recommended titles from my surveyed friends. I was going to scan and share the list I made, but I forgot, so here's a recap of what some of my friends suggested that Osric would be reading:

Wendee (from Michigan)
- 3 Musketeers
- Portrait of Dorian Gray
- Civil Disobedience
- Shakespeare (author)
- Ben Franklin (author)

Angela (from Ohio)
- Dracula
- Frankenstein
- Bronte sisters (authors)

Rummanah (from Illinois)
- Kipling (authors)
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- Cyrano de Bergerac

Attached are the scans of the notes I did remember to do as well as some book covers of things I'm reading for Osric.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Plotting Osric - My "Notes"

As a follow-up to my "WWOD" post, here are the notes I've made on approaching the project. They might be useful to our Twitter director when she writes her Masters thesis on the project. (I love researching and researchers and will help any way I can with projects if I'm able.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

What would Osric do?

My husband has testified that I am prone to "enthusiasms" - getting very excited and focused on a particular topic and then I may run out of steam or get distracted by another new interest. Some common ones that wax and wane regularly are exercising and improving my spiritual life. Some others stick around for a long time but just aren't as prominent as they once were, like comics or the Forest of Reading. My current "enthusiasms" are blogging (I've gone from hosting one blog to writing four) and a fantastic project started by Danika Barker. This project is short-term enough that I won't lose steam but long-term enough for me to play and explore and work on it to my heart's content.

As I've described it to my staff: I'm performing in a production of Hamlet - on Twitter.

I am definitely not a Twitter expert. I joined because a dear and respected colleague of mine (@LisaJDempster) recommended using Twitter as a Professional Learning Network. Once I began to follow people and read their tweets, I understood the benefits of this type of learning community. At some point, I followed Danika. She posted that she was going to try out a project where people would take character roles from Shakespeare's Hamlet and "do the play" via Twitter. I was intrigued. I filled out her application form. I received word that I was accepted and that I would play Osric.

My first thought = Hurray! I've been accepted!
My second thought = Who the heck is Osric?
My third thought = Holy crow! I haven't read Hamlet in years - I better get to it!

The process so far has made me reflect a lot about teaching and learning, both my own and that of my students. My first step was to grab my copy of Hamlet and start reading it. I got the gist of the main plot ("oh yeah, they're freaked about because they see a ghost at the beginning of the play") although some of the poetic language was lost on me - I'm an elementary teacher-librarian, so iambic pentameter isn't something I encounter daily. Then I Googled Osric. I scribbled some notes on scrap paper near my computer. (In a "mondaymollymusings" first, I will attach a scan of some of the notes I made - my first visual for this blog. I'll actually put it in a separate post, since this one is so long!) I watched a video of a performance in which he was characterized as having a sharp suit, slick haircut and shiny shoes. Then I read another website in which they suggest that a modern version of Osric would have many gold chains, long hair and fancy shirts. Then I saw a clip online from Kenneth Branaugh's Hamlet in which Robin Williams plays Osric and looks/sounds nothing like either of those interpretations. What would "my" Osric be like? How would I decide what the "right" or "best" interpretation of Osric should be for this project? I looked back at the text and looked at how the other Twactors began to do their posts. I consulted with Danika, our "director" - I was very conscious of "doing a good job". I decided that he would be a bit of a suck-up, complimenting and flattering everyone he could to get in their good books. The most memorable thing about Osric, who really is a minor character that only appears in one scene in the whole play to invite Hamlet to the duel and mention the bet Claudius has placed on the match, is how he is willing to discard his opinion to match that of his social superior. It's hot - definitely. No, it's cold - yes, you've got a point. I decided to use a lot of shout-outs on Twitter, and to mis-use some terms for comedy's sake. This is a big improvisational project, so there are no lines to memorize or follow, just characters to stay true to and plot points to maintain. It's quite an intellectual challenge. I kept asking myself "What would Osric do?" when reading the Hamlet feed. As I wheddled and praised and flattered, I hoped that most of the Twactors wouldn't respond, since Osric is so minor that he's not worth paying attention to, but when even given a tiny smidgen of attention, he'd play it up to the hilt. I think Osric would've wet himself when he saw Laertes call him a friend in public. That's why, so far, he's the only character that retweets. Of course, he only tends to retweet things that involve him or people talking about him, but that's part of his "schtick". I worried I was taking it too far, that Osric was posting too much, but Danika reassured me that she liked Osric's sycophantic and obnoxious sms phrases. Then I worried that Osric's phrases were like the ones I usually post in my regular Twittering.

Can you tell I'm getting into this quite a bit?

Danika encouraged and challenged us to use as many different forms of multimedia as we could. The other people involved are so incredibly talented, both with their use of different apps like FourSquare and with the way they portray their characters so well, that it's a pleasure to be involved in this project. Osric's contributions to the multimedia portion have been hashtags (that don't work - deliberately on my part - I don't want Charlie Sheen following us!) and youtube videos. I was going to make a Shelfari account for him until I found out I have to link it to my Amazon account, so I think I'll make a Goodreads account. So many things I look at and think about how Osric would react to certain things, and whether or not Osric would mention them in his tweets. I think it's possible for me to play like this partly because he's such a minor character. He only has a few lines, so there's a small pot of "primary source material" for me to examine and re-examine. It also gives me room to interpret and explore a bit, because there aren't any iconic images or portrayals that I have to "compete" with in my head. I'm curious to see if I have my old high school notes from our study of Hamlet.

So what exactly does this tell me about teaching and learning? I can see how being engaged in the project is key. Would I have done all the extra reading (on courtiers, civil servants and fencing) if I wasn't keen? Probably not. I see how I use different learning styles (interpersonal, intrapersonal, verbal-linguistic) and critical thinking (evaluating different portraits and interpretations and then choosing which best suits when designing Osric's avatar on Bitstrips) to approach the task. I see how referring to many secondary sources (videos, Wikipedia, blogs, etc.) helps widen and deepen my understanding of the character. I continue to be enthusiastic about this project, and I hope one day to meet the rest of the "cast" in person some day!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Silent Librarian

You've heard of "The Unquiet Librarian", Buffy Hamilton?
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I became "The Silent Librarian".

At least once every school year, I lose my voice for a day or so. This time around, my laryngitis was combined with a dry hacking cough and lasted a week. My colleagues advised me to take a day or two off to recuperate, but I didn't feel ill and it was very difficult to book supply teachers, so I chose to solider through the week and teach without talking when possible.

I learned a lot about myself, my students, and my teaching/learning methods.

I discovered that my voice is a big part of my identity. Hitting the "mute" button almost made me disappear. My husband said, "I miss you" and I whispered in return, "But I haven't gone anywhere. I'm right next to you." He responded that when he doesn't hear me, it's like I'm not present. I was at a meeting that weekend and someone said "I thought you weren't here because I didn't hear you". Does that mean I'm a loud-mouth? For the sake of my fragile self-esteem, I choose to believe it's because I'm big on verbal communication. I sing. I joke. I chat. I had to cancel all Forest of Reading chats with students because I couldn't talk.

Teaching without talking is darn hard! I found I rely on my voice for class management, for instruction, for bonding with students ... for almost everything! We have several students at our school who are selective mutes and I don't know how they do it. People try to speak for you but are often wrong. I tried to communicate using gestures, facial expressions and typing/written notes, but talking is so much quicker a means of communication. I had EAs, ECEs and students read books for me and lead student discussions based on whispered directions I gave, but it was hard not to chime in to guide things when it went off-tangent or off-kilter. Ironically, for some people, when I whispered, they responded back with a soft voice to match. That's a classic behaviour-modification strategy: don't yell to be heard over student chatter; talk softly and they will focus to listen and respond in similarly quiet voices.

Students can be both very empathetic and find the humour in my predicament. When I lose my voice, instead of a sultry husky lower octave, mine turns into Minnie Mouse. Two intermediate students were surveying staff for participation in their fund raising breakfast initiative but when I went to answer, I squeezed and they doubled over laughing. They had to leave the library because they were laughing so hard. Many kids gave me a lot of advice - drink lots of water, go home and go to bed, take some medicine, don't talk, get a microphone like our music teacher wears - and many were concerned about my lack of voice and constantly told me to "get better soon Mz Molly".

I learned I don't like being a silent librarian - I will try taking better care of myself but I will also remember that silence can be golden, so I should stop talking of my own free will once in a while so that I can better listen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Future Teachers

On March 2, while checking my Twitter, I saw a plea from Zoe Branigan-Pipe, an instructor at Brock University in Hamilton - she wanted people to Skype her class about "messages to her graduating class". I volunteered, and then thought "what the heck am I doing?" I had laryngitis and was under strict orders from my husband not to talk. But Zoe called, and I answered.

I must have looked like a bit of a kook, with my cartoon black hair and Minnie Mouse voice and rambling thoughts. I think I said things like "don't be discouraged if you don't get a job right away" and "nothing will ever prepare you for teaching on your own, but you have a great support network online to help you" and "keep learning - if you don't want to learn anymore, find a new job" (and I think I muttered other things like being a supply teacher, which I think is good experience for all educators, and how being a teacher-librarian is the best job in a school, and it's good to volunteer, and how my son whips my butt in gaming - it was all a little random). I don't flatter myself to think that 5 minutes on a screen will inspire or become etched in their memories. I remember what it was like for me as a soon-to-be graduate.

I graduated in 1996 and that was probably the most stressful year of my life. In addition to the usual worries of "what if I don't get a job?" and applying for different school boards, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. I was itching for a classroom of my own; after 6 years in unviersity and 4 of those in the Faculty of Education, I thought I was ready. You are never truly ready, but even in preparing our own students for the future, it's hard to anticipate each twist and turn. I think we need to be willing to go along for the ride, make learning fun and enjoyable, embrace technology and new ways of learning, and treat every student like a treasure.

Someone on my staff is just like that, and I'm very sad because after Easter, she'll be leaving. She's an LTO, covering a maternity leave, and I've learned so much from this "new teacher / future teacher" that I really mourn the lack of face-to-face PD I get just from being in the same building with her. The teacher who is returning is great, don't get me wrong, but this person embodied so many of the qualities I admire in great educators:

- tech-savvy

(yesterday she brought in her iPad and showed me how to use an app that translated word to speech much more quickly than our old Dragon Naturally Speaking programs on our desktop computers at school. She regularly checks out the SMART Exchange to find great templates for doing attendance or running other activities. Her students participated in World Math Day and competed with kids all over the world, online. She's the only other staff member at my school - not counting me - that's on Twitter. Her hubby was the one who advised me about selecting a domain name for our school Google Apps account.)

- team-player

(she was part of tke K-2 Inquiry team and worked so collaboratively with her peers - and with me - sharing all sorts of resources, ideas, strategies, etc. I nominated the team for a Premier's Award for Teaching Excellence and I hope they win it. None of the team would consent to an individual award, but they agreed to be nominated as long as it was as a team.)

- talented

(I love how she interacts with her students! I've watched her class as she's taught and it's just magic. Add to that her abilities to coach volleyball...)

- teacher-librarian-friendly

(she GETS it, more so than most teachers I know. I chose one of her grade 1 kids to speak at the OLA Superconference on the Learning Commons, partly because so many of the things she does aligns so well with the Learning Commons philosophy > learning partnerships, integrating technology, equity of access, genuine student inquiry, shared leadership. She even took it upon herself to help coach the little girl when she first appeared too shy to speak in front of an audience. The grade 1 student bowled everyone away with how articulate she was, and we were able to share some of the things she does in her class with her awesome teacher - like a Speakers Corner, where kids talk into a tape recorder with their ideas if they can't tell the teacher right away, and the teacher downloads the audio into files marked with the students' names and previews them to see how they demonstrate student learning.)

I am sad that she is leaving our school. I offered to poison or maim some older teachers so that she could get a position at our school (I am JOKING, so please do not call my principal to report I'm planning assaults) because I wish we were the lucky staff members to get to hire her permanently. Future teachers, don't despair - if you love it, you'll do it somehow, someday.