“She anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.”

Do you like to read aloud to your friends and family? I do. And this week, a trio of articles served as a catalyst for discourse and especially for wild gut-busting laughter during some family car trips.

The Article: How We Are Ruining America by David Brooks

The premise of this piece is that upper middle class Americans deliberately move their families away from the other half (read: “the poor and less educated”) and therefore limit opportunities for inclusion. This essentially bars class mobility. Basically, it is a caste system – locking out the untouchables, with little access to the upper classes. Education is a key part of this, and the system for college admissions is rigged to prioritize children of parents who are wealthy enough to play the game.

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While Brooks’ premise is aligned with my experiences with my own education and my profession as an educator, he makes a BIG MISTAKE – a paragraph so distracting that it is ripe for parody, and, well, just pretty dumb.

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Here it is – in all its glory:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

This is a lesson in writing – reread and ensure that your discourse is aligned and on message. The paragraphs before and after are written with on message and with academic language that fits the tone of the rest of the article. Brooks attempts to use a personal anecdote to connect with the reader – but it is an incredible distraction from his message and drew enormous critical responses about this single paragraph (see the fun part below). The poignant parts are forgotten as America reacts to the mention of delicatessen.

Also interesting to note that Italian is perceived as sophisticated (a change from just a century and change from when Italians were outcasts and even lynched) whereas Mexican is clearly just a step above a Miller High Life,  a bag of pork rinds, and some stale circus peanuts.

And now for the fun part…

Exhibit A: From the poignant blog The Outline, an  op-ed piece by Alex Nichols

Stop patronizing the working class: Why are pundits obsessed with Applebee’s and farm workers?

BOOM! Here’s the question on everyone’s miss after reading the sandwich shop story:

“First of all, how does someone so stereotypically provincial manage to befriend a high-profile Times columnist?”

And the following paragraph (definitely read this one aloud to a friend!) rips the equally-obsessed-with-how-the-lower-castes-handle-food columnists anti-gay conservative Rod Dreher and Bloomberg columnist Meghan McArdle a new one:

There is indeed a pattern here, but it isn’t that working-class Americans universally break out in hives when confronted with food other than hamburgers and mac ‘n’ cheese — it’s that no one wants to go out to lunch with any of these pompous hacks.

BOOM! Ain’t that the truth!

Exhibit B: From The AV Club‘s Sean O’Neal

Explaining David Brooks’ column to a stupid coworker who’s scared of fancy meat

This article is an absolute gem. And a single sentence had my husband and I laughing so hard that my daughters all laughed along with us:

“Indeed, I said single-malted-scotch-ily. I explained how this column serves as yet another clarion call alerting us to America’s slow sinking into a morass of cultural decline, which David Brooks and others like us—we who thoughtfully chew our piquant charcuterie while brooding over the Proustian reveries of ourselves it inspires—can only look upon it sadly, gazing down at our bologna-smeared consorts and lamenting the many bloviating, condescending, overpaid butchers of language and meat that are driving us apart.”

“Single-malted-scotch-ily” – who writes like this? Amazing. Just meet a friend for lunch (antipasto, anyone? or maybe just a gas station pickle in a bag)  and read this article to them. You are giving them a gift, seriously.

 

The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl

Hello, Reader!

Isn’t it unbelievable how relationships change over time? I was a difficult teenager and a distant twenty-something for my mom, but now she is one of my best friends. One thing I love about my mom is that she is up for anything – meaning that she will accompany me on whatever quirky little adventure.

So when I called my mom at 6:30 in the morning and asked if I should buy tickets for  The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl for our NYC weekend, she (of course) said,”Sure!”

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Mom and I Heart NY!

Although I don’t want to give any spoilers for those who may attend this tour in the future, I hope to give a glimpse into the three hours I spent in the Village on a sunny autumn afternoon.

Our tour began at the White Horse Tavern (est. 1880), where we convened with our tour guides (both very cool looking – a goth woman and a bearded guy with a newsboy hat) as well as a literary crew of tourists, mostly from New York State, all nerdy – just like us!

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Mom outside the White Horse Tavern.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was the featured author at the White Horse, where he wrote his lilting yet highly emotional poetry…and literally drank himself to death. The White Horse is also the site of graffiti antagonizing belligerently drunk beat writer Jack Kerouac as well as a place frequented by one of my all-time favorites – James Baldwin.

Our crew then walked through the winding streets of the Village. Thank goodness for our guides – one can easily become lost here.  I find O’Henry’s description precise:

In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. 

Our next stop was the Kettle of Fish, a dive bar sectioned into two parts – the bar itself on one side and then a separate room with tables and chairs. Mom enjoyed a local beer (recommended by our guide), while I sipped a Guinness. I have never been a day drinker, and I worried about drowsiness, but our tour guides were so intriguing that it was not an issue at all.

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Portrait of Kerouac outside the Kettle of Fish

One of the highlights of the tour (for me, at least) was seeing the guides act out a wussy fight between Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan over the Factory’s it-girl Edie Sedgwick. The truly violent storytelling emerges, however, as the guides tell of the severe beating of Jack Kerouac outside the bar after a long night of drinking. (Inference: Jack Kerouac was not a popular guy in these parts.) However, the Kettle does preserve Jack’s memory by housing the famous bar sign used in a well-recognized portrait, and later featured in a 1993 Gap Ad.

As we left the Kettle of Fish and made our way through the winding streets once more, we stopped outside the home of famed poet and openly bisexual woman Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose education and talent brought her from rural Maine to the Village in the early 20th century. Our goth tour guide impressively recited St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Thursday”  from memory.

After a brief stop outside of famed speakeasy Chumley’s, with it’s sliding window door, we arrived at Grove Court, the setting of O’Henry’s immensely touching short story The Last Leaf. Sample of this well-crafted narrative:

The most lonely thing in the world is a soul when it is preparing to go on its far journey.

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Grove Court: The apartments in the back housed the bohemian characters in The Last Leaf.

Across the street was the home of the poet Hart Crane, a tragic figure estranged by his homosexuality and alcoholism. Despite these struggles, Crane, inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as his obsession with the Brooklyn Bridge, attempted an epic poem of the history of America, which was well-known but highly criticized. Crane’s life is truly sad and fascinating – I continue to research him when I can.

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Our crew outside the home of Hart Crane.

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Marie’s Crisis 

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A Haunting Plaque Commemorating Thomas Paine 

Our penultimate stop was Marie’s Crisis, site of the pauper’s death of Crisis papers writer Thomas Paine. A colorful moment at this location was when a woman with bright red lipstick (not a member of the crew) crept up behind Mom and I and proclaimed to the group:

Welcome to the Village! Where the streets aren’t straight, and neither are the people!

And, as quickly as the tour had began, it ended at The Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement. In 1969, in an era when police routinely raided gay bars, the inn was the home of violent riots between the LGBT patrons and the police following the death of gay icon Judy Garland.

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The Birthplace of the Modern LGBT Rights Movement 

This tour made quite the impression on me. I have provided a mere snapshot here, as so much more information was presented by our knowledgable and enthusiastic guides. I was left with the following question:

How do writers persevere despite challenges related to trauma, alcoholism, and persecution for homosexuality and gender?

I have only recently began to identify myself as a writer (despite writing since childhood), and I face my own struggles with not only life’s challenges but also with making the mental and physical time and space to write. I haven’t yet found my community of writers, but on this tour, I felt at home. It was heartwarming and encouraging to spend an afternoon with a group of people as interested in writing and literature as I am (and to know that my mom is one of them!). This warm feeling had lingered within me ever since.

This post was written out of personal interest.  I paid my $20 (seriously a bargain) just like any other customer for this incredibly worthwhile tour! I highly recommend visiting The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl’s Website for more information. The tour meets every Saturday at 1 pm at the White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson Street on 11th).

Receiving the #Pages4Progress Education Activist Award at World Education’s Annual Dinner

Last Friday evening, I had the honor of attending World Education‘s Annual Dinner at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter in South Boston, where I was the proud recipient of the #Pages4Progress Education Activist Award. It was an incredibly energizing feeling to be a part of an event full of humanitarians dedicated to global education, not to mention the abundance of food and drinks, the futuristic gallery atmosphere, and the rhythmic live music.

I was really stunned when I visited the World Education offices a few weeks ago, and Erin Doheny and Danielle Klainberg presented me with an invitation to the Annual Dinner and asked to recognize me for my #Pages4Progress Summer Reading. Reading is an absolute pleasure for me, and it was not at all difficult to log my pages. However, receiving this award certainly made me feel validated that writing about my love for literacy on this site is, in fact, making an impact. I also think that, in my work with K-8 students, it sets a great example to show them that, just because of reading and writing, I was able to connect with people and attend an incredible celebration. Thank you to World Education for making me feel so proud!

Here are some of my favorite photos and even a video from the event!

My Husband, David

Thank you so much to my husband, David, who always picks up my books from the library. I would not get all this reading done without him.

Literacy Selfie: David Dines and Jennifer Dines (me!) – We were so happy to be out on a Friday night!

Artists for Humanity

Artists for Humanity is a Boston-based organization that provides underserved youth with arts-based employment. Their LEEDS-certified Epicenter felt modern, spacious, and airy – and absolutely full of life!

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Proudly Holding Up the Program at The Artists for Humanity Epicenter

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Afro-Pop band Group Saloum provided the evening’s soundtrack.

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David and I were seated at Table Eight with some wonderful company.

I was so happy to see a familiar face – Pamela Civins, Executive Director of Boston Partners in Education. I have had Boston Partners tutor volunteers  in my classroom. They always treat my students like gold, and the students always look forward to the day when their special tutor comes ! My students and I have also been fortunate enough to participate in The Big Cheese Reads.

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Pamela Civins (left) and I (right)

We also made some new friends!

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Me and Dr. Thomas Winters of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network

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Me, Lori Winters, and Nanette Brey Magnani

World Education Award: Mr. Abdou Sarr

The evening’s primary honoree was Mr. Abdou Sarr, Country Director of World Education Senegal. The audience was disappointed to learn that Mr. Sarr was unable to personally attend the event because his visa had been denied due to concerns regarding Ebola. Moussa Sidibe, Honorary Consul of Senegal, accepted the award on Mr. Sarr’s behalf. Although Mr. Sarr has established and developed an array of social and economic programs in Senegal, I found it most interesting to learn about his work in supporting women in radio production, journalism, and community discussion.

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A video of Mr. Sarr was presented in lieu of a personal appearance.

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Moussa Sidibe, Honorary Consul of Senegal, accepts the World Education Award from Shirley Burchfield, Vice President of World Education’s Africa division.

EmpowermentThroughMedia Women as Reporters Community Listening#Pages4Progress Education Activist Award

I was so nervous to go up on stage in front of all of the extremely accomplished in the room. However, I just put on my biggest smile, and I tried to stand up as straight as possible. I felt so inspired by the incredible accomplishments of Mr. Sarr. As I accepted the award, I thought: “There is so much more work I need to do!”

It was especially humbling to meet World Education President Joel Lamstein, an incredibly accomplished humanitarian who was in fact present at John F. Kennedy’s announcement of the creation of the Peace Corps in 1960.

Here I am, standing tall, and accepting the award from  World Education President Joel Lamstein.

Here I am, standing tall, and accepting the award from World Education President Joel Lamstein.

It was so exciting to see my name in the program.

It was so exciting to see my name in the program.

There’s No Place Like Home

After the big event, David and I returned home to find our little girls sleeping! Before going to bed ourselves, Dave had me pose once more with my award. We plan to hang it in our home next weekend. Thank you, World Education, for giving us such special memories.

Standing Proud Next to the Piano

Standing Proud Next to the Piano

BPL’s Bibliocycle: The Intersection of Produce and Picture Books

Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 80’s and 90’s, I visited the local farm stand plenty of times. It was a wooden shack on the side of the road with an awning, vegetables, and fruits. There was nothing there for kids specifically…I mean, yeah, you could get some strawberries or corn if you were into that as a kid (I was), but believe me, there was nothing special for kids to “do” there while adults bought their produce and maybe a jar of jelly.

Fast forward to my infant daughters’ lives here in Roslindale – City of Boston – in 2014. They are so lucky because the farmers’ market is not a farm stand…it’s an event! And plenty of it is for kids.

This past weekend, however, was particularly special because the Boston Public Library’s Bibliocycle came to the Roslindale Farmers’ Market.

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The witch in Hansel and Gretel used a candy cottage to lure children to an oven. However, the Farmers’ Market  just uses a diabetic-friendly bouncy house to gently guide children towards the Bibliocycle.

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Cool books on comfortable mats – the perfect summer day for a young bookworm!

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The Bibliocycle was part of a special bike day at the Farmers’ Market.

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A sturdy tent protected the bookworms (and the books) from sunburn.

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The cycle is stocked with food-themed picture books – and my personal favorite is Dragons Love Tacos!

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A child-size table featured books about veggies.

 

Best of all, two friendly librarians greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. You could even check out books!

Best of all, two friendly librarians, Amanda Bressler (left) and  June Thammasnong (right), greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. They even helped patrons check out books with their library cards!

 

 

Join Me in Reading for a Cause!

Dear Readers:

This morning, via the Goodreads July newsletter, I learned of a very interesting initiative that involves two of my favorite things – reading and social justice. I invite you to join the Pages for Progress challenge with me in order to support World Education. All you need to do is log pages you’ve read on the Pages4Progress website, and World Education will receive a $1 donation for each page.

I myself will be reading 25 pages per day between now and International Literacy Day on September 8th. I have already honored my pledge today by reading pages 163 to 188 of 10% Happier by Dan Harris (the July selection for the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club). I will be regularly updating my progress on my pledge via my twitter account.

I do hope you will join me in helping the world to read! Please let me know if you do sign up by commenting here or on twitter!

Happy Reading from Jennifer Dines

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Reading from the Very Start: Establishing a Literacy Routine with Newborns

My daughters Sofia and Francine were born on June 1st, but their interactions with reading began from early in my pregnancy. Since I am a middle school literacy teacher,  the girls often heard me reading aloud to my students or heard my students reading aloud to me while still in utero. I noticed them kicking in reaction to read alouds during my second trimester. I remember when the librarian from the local library came to visit our sixth grade students, and I sat at my desk and felt the girls kicking me the whole time she read to the students. Also, I kept books in the car starting in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and I read aloud to the girls while their dad was driving.

It was much easier to keep up with reading to the girls when I was pregnant than it is now that they are actually here, but I am proud to say that I have found at least a few minutes every day to read to the girls. Below is an overview of the various reading materials I have tried in order to keep up with our reading routine.

Sing Along Books

I love the bilingual (Spanish and English) songbooks De Colores and Diez Deditos by Mexican-American educator Jose-Luis Orozco. The books are beautifully illustrated with colorful borders on each page, and background information as well as melodic notation are given for each song. I love the minimal arrangements of the music – mostly simple guitar accompaniment and vocals. Even if you don’t know much Spanish, these songs are so catchy that you will be singing along to them after only a few listens. Diez Deditos is especially fun for Sofia and Francine because I do the finger motions for each song on their bellies or arms when I sing along.

Sing Along Books by Mexican-American Author Jose Luis Orozco

Sing Along Books by Mexican-American Author Jose Luis Orozco

Audiobooks

I have found two electronic resources for free audiobooks that are great for when I am holding a baby and have only one hand free. Or when I am just completely exhausted but want the girls to have a few minutes of reading.

Librivox

Librivox is an amazing collection of over 15,000 audio books in the public domain. I have the LibriVox Audio Books app on my iPhone, and we are currently enjoying traditional tales by the Brothers Grimm and James Baldwin.

Reach Out and Read

The Reach Out and Read website is an unmissable resource for early childhood reading. I love the “Lola” audio books on their site because they are designed to get children excited about reading!

Children’s Chapter Books

My husband and I both enjoy reading chapter books to the girls. When I was still pregnant, I read The Little Prince to them just by having it in the car over a couple of days. We are currently about a third of the way through The Children’s Homer. The great thing about chapter books is that they really encourage me as a parent to keep reading to the girls because they hold my interest as well.  Also, they are easy to hold in one hand while holding a baby.

The Children's Homer: a chapter book for kids and adults as well

The Children’s Homer: a chapter book for kids and adults as well

Picture Books

Picture books are a little trickier to read alone with newborns because they are huge and not easy to hold in one hand. However, picture books are great when more than one adult is around or when the babies are in their bassinet or propped up on pillows.

Sofia and Francine received Take Two: A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen as a gift from my friend Pat Harris. It is such an adorable collection of poems and pictures for twins!

Sofia and Francine received Take Two: A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen as a gift from my friend Pat Harris. It is such an adorable collection of poems and pictures for twins!

 

Daddy Daughter Time: Reading a picture book after mealtime

Daddy Daughter Time: Reading a picture book after mealtime

Board Books

I enjoy reading board books with the girls when they are alert and awake (which is only for 20-3o minutes a few times per day), so they can look at the pictures. We usually will read 4 or 5 board books in one sitting.

Board books - all from my teacher friends

Board books – all from my teacher friends

 

Online Books

WeGiveBooks.org has a wide variety of short online books for ages 0-3. These books are great for when I am holding a baby in one arm. Our favorite so far is Skippyjon Jones Shape Up because Skippyjon does a lot of different movements, and I move the babies to match them as I read.

A Goodreads of Their Own

If you would like to check out what Sofia and Francine are reading, you can visit their Goodreads profile online. I am really enjoying keeping track of all the books we have read together, and I think they will enjoy looking at the list when they are older.

My goal is to create as many positive associations with reading as possible for my daughters and to show them that reading is a fun family activity and a great way to bond together.

 

Embodying Literacy: Teaching Reading, Writing, and Public Speaking Through Movement and Drama

As a teacher of reading and writing, I have always required that the scholars in my classes use their eyes, ears, and conversational voices on a daily basis in my classroom. But why have I limited my students access to literacy to only the head when they have whole bodies that can be engaged in learning?

I never questioned myself in this way until the present school year, in which I enrolled in year-long professional development course offered by Very Special Arts of Massachusetts (VSA) and the Boston Public Schools. The course was facilitated by two highly accomplished arts integration specialists, both of whom are faculty members in the Creative Arts in Learning Program at Lesley University: drama pedagogue Marianne Adams and dance therapist Priscilla Harmel.

The program consisted of several components: monthly meetings with our cohort of teachers, online assignments and reflections, curriculum development and implementation, and an on-sight visit from one of the facilitators.

The Teacher Experience

t one point during our very first meeting, a full day session at VSA’s beautiful downtown art gallery and community space, I found myself wrapped in several colorful scarves, dancing and playing drums with a group of teacher-artists I had never met until that day.

Our goal was to explore the immigration experience through enacting Adrienne Rich’s poem: “Breaking through Illusion”. I love poetry on its own, but the joy and engagement of performing works of literature with my classmates was something I needed to share with my middle school ESL classroom. Luckily, the facilitators not only promised but required that I would be doing just that throughout the school year.

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Dramatizing two perspectives of a narrative through movement (from left: Kim Taylor Knight, Dance Teacher at the Curley School; Gregg Bodell, Music Teacher at the P.J. Kennedy; Lisa Yanni, Visual Arts Teacher at the Winship; Logan Cole, Drama Teacher at the Dearborn; Gail Gefteas, Art Teacher at the Roosevelt; Jenn Dines, ESL and Special Needs Teacher at the Frederick)

Our subsequent meetings took place in the evenings at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain. At each three-hour session, we not only discussed our progress in implementing arts-based curricula in our classrooms, but we also spent a large part of the time learning and performing whole body arts integration techniques. I learned so much from the interaction with my co-teachers during these sessions. The class was a mix of arts elective teachers and classroom teachers, and this was a very nice juxtaposition to have in the group. The arts teachers were able to present many creative resources and ideas, while the classroom teachers were able to offer insights on the connection to literacy.

Dramatic Reading – Malcolm X

 This year, I had self-selected a goal of pushing my end of unit project-based learning assessments further to include more performance and presentation skills. I wanted my students to take the next step of not only completing a large assessment task, but I needed to push them to be able to present their learning to those outside of our classroom. This is a huge challenge for students learning a second language. Public presentation is nerve-wracking enough in the primary language, and it is exponentially more anxiety provoking in a second language

During the VSA Saturday session, we learned how to use lines from a text to create a script for ensemble performance. I utilized this “script from text” strategy to create an assessment piece of my intermediate and advanced ESL class’s unit on Civil Rights.

My students had just finished reading Walter Dean Myers’ Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, and we were about to embark on a close reading of the excerpt “Learning to Read” from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After reading and discussing “Learning to Read” together, I asked students to pick two or three lines that they thought were most important, explaining that I would use the lines they had selected to develop their parts for a performance piece. After a few rehearsals, our class held a special presentation of our dramatic reading piece for other classes in our middle school.

This performance was witnessed by Boston Public Schools New Teacher Developer Crystal Haynes, who also happens to be one of the hosts of the local television show “Extra Help”. She offered for our students to present the “Learning to Read” dramatic reading piece on television and for them to spend an hour on live television, fielding questions and informing viewers about Malcolm X.

On a cold Tuesday in March, I took a group of students to Roxbury Community College to record the show. It was especially notable that Roxbury Community College is located on Malcolm X Boulevard, not far from the house where Malcolm once lived with his half-sister. The students did incredible work with the performance, and the repeated readings of Malcolm X’s writing also served to build their reading fluency.

VIDEO: 7th and 8th Grade Students Perform “Learning to Read” on the television show “Extra Help” with Dr. Crystal Haynes

Introducing Movement Using the Myths of Heracles

Following our unit on Civil Rights, our class traveled far further back in time to study classical and world mythology. Although I had incorporated drama into the previous unit, our VSA instructor Priscilla Harmel pushed me to think about how to incorporate movement into the mythology unit. Priscilla encouraged me to plan a movement lesson on a day that she was available to come in and support me in teaching.

I adapted a movement lesson from a book recommended to me through the VSA course: Strategies to Integrate the Arts in Langauge Arts by Jennifer M. Bogard and Lisa Donovan, an incredible arts integration resource guide published by Lesley University. The lesson, titled “Moving Statues”, focused on having students identify and then embody action verbs found in a text.

For the text, I chose a selection from D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths in which the epic Greek hero Heracles slays the Nemean Lion as part of his labors that atone for the murder of his wife and sons. Heracles is a muscle man, known more for his brawn then his brain, whose uncontrollable temper often gets the better of his good intentions.

As we read and discussed the selection together, I modeled identifying action verbs in the text. Priscilla assisted me in having the class act out the action verbs using dramatic movements, and she helped me introduce movement vocabulary. Priscilla also encouraged the students to think not only about the verbs and the movements connected to them, but also about Heracles’ intentions as he performed the actions described in the text. She repeatedly asked the students why they thought Heracles was doing what he was doing and how the intention would effect the movement.

Following Priscilla and I’s co-taught lesson, I assigned students to groups and given a text from one of Heracles’ labors. I provided them with a three column graphic organizer: verb, intention, and movement to use as they read through the text and planned a presentation in which they would read the text aloud to the class and act out several of the action verbs.

I provided the students with one class period to prepare the pieces with their groups, and I was truly amazed by the focus and dedication that I observed during the rehearsal period. I did not have to redirect a single student, and I was able to confer with all of the groups and respond to their inquires. The students were 100% focused and engaged on planning their piece. Following the performances, students were given a vocabulary quiz on the selected words, and all students received grades of 90 – 100%.

VIDEO: 8th grade students Francely, Leidhryd, and Vanessa’s performance piece from a selection in which Heracles fights the Amazons

Who’s the REAL Heracles?

I saw a huge pay off with the dramatic performance and action verbs activities as students began writing diary entries from the perspective of Heracles and preparing to present their writing to students in other classes.

Students revised their diary entries after examining several selections from the diaries of Anne Frank and examining how Anne develops her character through sharing her thoughts, feelings, words, and actions with the reader. As students revised, I encouraged them to think about the ways that Heracles moves in order to develop their descriptions of his actions. The combination of embodiment, visualization of movement (through watching their peers’ performances), and deep examinations of the writing techniques used by another diarist engendered sophisticated and unique diary entries from the students.

“SUICIDAL THOUGHTS” by Nicol

Dear Journal

Today is September 19, 0121. Today is also the day of the anniversary that I killed my beloved family. I was about to kill myself too but my friend Theseus saved me. I remember that day like it was yesterday. FLASHBACK

My friend Theseus stood there before me and he stretched out his hands to clasp mine own fresh bloodstained hands. Meaning he would become defiled and have a part of the blame and guilt.

“Do not keep me from sharing all with you. Evil I share with you is not evil to me. Men of great soul can bear the blows of heaven and not flinch.”

I said, “Do you know what I have done?”

” I know this”, Theseus answered. ” your sorrows reach from earth to heaven”.

“So I will die”, I said

“No hero spoke those words”, Theseus said

“What can I do but die?” I cried

Does he not see what I have done. How I should not be forgiven. Not to mention how everyone will look down on me for killing my beloved family.

” Live?” ” A branded man for all to say, look. There is he who killed his wife and sons. everywhere my jailers, the sharp scorpions of the tongue!”

“Even so suffer and be strong.” Theseus answered.”

“You shall come to Athens with me,share my home and all things with me. And you will give to me and to the city a great return, the glory of having helped you.”

I said nothing. A long silenced followed. I decided I will do it for best of my family. At last I spoke, slow , heavy words. “So let it be,” I said,”I will be strong and wait for death”  END OF FLASHBACK

I sat in a chair and cried.

 “Accepting the Twelve Labors” by Francely Clases

When I was in Delphi I went to see the Oracle of Delphi. I really was sad for the loss of my wife and my kids and even though the people of Athen said to me that it wasn’t my fault but the gods, I still feel responsible and I can’t forgive myself. When I got to the priestess and told her what had happened with my wife and kids and she looked at the situation just like I did. She said to me that I needed to be purified for my crime and only a terrible punishment can do that so she sent me to my cousin Eurystheus, the King of Mycenae. I said to myself “I knew it, I knew that I deserved punishment for the killing of my family.” The oracle said that he would give me my punishments. So there I was in Mycenae kneeling before my cousin, ready to become his slave and accepting the punishment he is going to give me.

 “The Lernean Hydra” by Mikel

         My second labor of punishment was to kill the Lernean Hydra, a snake with nine heads, and lived in the swamps of Lerna. Even though I was the strongest and bravest man in the world, I was pretty nervous about this beast, but then I thought, what are the women going to do when they find out that I, the mighty Hercules is nervous about going out to kill the Lernean Hydra? This monster was so poisonous that the fumes from its breath alone were enough to kill whatever came close to it. When I heard these news, I said to my family, “ You better hope that nasty little critter doesn’t kill me with the fumes of its breath.” So I went off. While I was walking through the swamp, I suddenly stopped. I was scared. And, when I turned to my right, there it was, just waiting for me. And, I said to myself, “ Here goes nothing.” So I filled my enormous lungs with air, held my breath, and ran at the Hydra. Swinging my club, I knocked off the Hydra’s heads, and one after the other they rolled to the ground. Here’s what really put me in shock. But no sooner had I knocked off one head then a new one grew in its place. So I half turned around and let out enough air to call to my charioteer to bring a firebrand and sear the necks. Then no new heads could sprout. What really made me mad, was when Hera saw that I was winning over the Hydra, and she sent a giant crab to pinch my heel. So with a mighty kick, I sent the giant crab flying as I knocked off the last of the heads. Then to finish up, I dipped my arrows in the Hydra’s blood, making them so poisonous that a mere scratch from them was deadly. After, I returned to Mycenae and said to myself, “ Thank god it’s over.” My second labor performed.

For the final presentation of the unit, students were instructed to select their best diary entry to perform for students in other classrooms. After two days of preparation, including a session of critical peer feedback, I organized students into small groups and they were sent to my colleagues’ classrooms to perform for their peers. Each student claimed to be the REAL Heracles, but only one students from each group could be chosen by the audience as the REAL or most convincing Heracles.

After the presentations, all students received candy and celebrated together, and the most convincing “Heracleses” received large plastic Easter eggs filled with candy.

8th Grade Guys

Winners of the “Who is the REAL Heracles?” contest hold up their prizes like trophies. A great day of celebration!

 

Reflection

Although participation in the Very Special Arts “Embodying Literacy” course was a lot of work, it was completely worthwhile.

First of all, the monthly meetings provided a wonderful outlet for teachers to get together and embrace their creativity as well as learn easily implemented whole body instructional techniques.

Secondly, completing the projects for the course pushed me to design better curricula for my students that allowed them to use all of their senses to engage in learning. Not only did the results pay off in terms of increasing the job and engagement in my classroom, but students improved their scores on standardized reading examinations, homework completion, and typical schoolwork. Using the arts served to motivate and engage students in our work, and the performances provided students with a huge incentive to make sure that the prerequisite steps were all completed – or else they would risk being unprepared in front of an audience!

Finally, the projects that I required for each unit pushed for students to do open-ended, higher-order thinking tasks. For example, there were no right answers for selecting the most important lines from the “Learning to Read” piece, yet I did require students to explain and justify their choices orally and in writing before I included them in the script. This developed their persuasion skills as well as their attention to the text. Additionally, the embodiment pieces allowed students to explore verbs by creating movements to fit the vocabulary as well as the context or usage of the words. This required for students to synthesize their understanding of the words’ meanings in isolation as well as in context.

I will continue to push myself to embrace drama and whole-body movement in the classroom for future units. The Very Special Arts “Embodying Literacy” course was truly a source of inspiration, and I am sad that it is over!