Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Theater and Literature

Today's class found us discussing the similarities between the theater and literature content standards. As an English major, I do feel a slight bias towards the more traditional standards of Language Arts. However I do recognize the limitations in strictly adhering to solely those standards. Since we're suppose to measure our student's ability to read and write, it's easy to cast aside any other method of assessment. What I like about the theater standards is that they more closely mirror the Six Facets of Understanding.

With the theater standards, a student is forced to tackle artistic perception, creative expression, cultural/historical context, aesthetic value, and to establish a connection to other disciplines. What I particularly enjoy about these standards is that they push a student's intellectual boundaries. A student can assess artistic and creative expression to establish a sense of artistic worth. In having a skill like this, students are better capable of forming strong academic critiques that they would otherwise miss out on if they followed the language arts content standards to the letter.

If we stick with the "Beowulf" example from a previous post, there are numerous traditional ways we could assess students with: essays, quizzes, multiple choice exams. The theater standards offer a more varied route though as they cover areas of understanding that exams and essays can't. For example, an idea i have for my lesson plan is to incorporate a dramatic performance of hero the students create modeled after the heroic archetypes we discuss. Even though I could just assign an essay asking them to explain what they know, this dramatic exercise allows them a creative outlet that will resonate with them for years to come. What's more memorable: a boring essay or a heroic skit?

It's definitely worth attempting to find a middle ground between the two sets of standards. Though I seem a bit more inclined to say that Drama is lot more fun.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Visual Art Project Response

Following our discussion and exhibition of our Visual Art Projects, many of my fellow students touched on a very interesting topic: to what ends do our course/work guidelines matter?

For most of our future curriculums, we as teachers will expect our students to meet our academic guidelines and expectations. Often, we'll assign classwork and homework with specific instructions for our students to take whatever topic we've been exploring and use their intellectual muscle to convey their understanding. Most, if not all assignments, will have strict instructions as to how the student should approach his or her own work. While not inherently wrong in establishing criteria, as future teachers we must be wary of allowing our grading scales to become rigid and static. Students vary in their intellectual abilities and how they process information and thus, the end goal of academic evaluation should be held on both an individual basis and the amount of the student's comprehension and mastery of a topic present in his or her work.

Shifting back to our Visual Art project, I was tasked with taking home Amanda's diorama. My initial observations of her project are as follows: an all black box with a small soldier who appears to be both tied to the roof of the box and has been hung. Our assignment's original guidelines required us to create a 3d representation of a piece of text from "The Things They Carried" by Tim O' Brien and she appears to have followed them to the letter. More profoundly, she has exhibited a clear understanding of the themes the story attempts to convey. If I were to be grading her project, I would immediately embrace the thematic impressions of loneliness, horror, death, and control vividly conveyed by her soldier and his environment. The Vietnam War was a dark period in human history and Amanda's project gives a worthy representation of what an American soldier may have existentially felt.

That being said, all the comprehension conveyed on her behalf would not be lost if she had instead relied on a 2d representation of her text. If for instance she were to have done a painting or collage instead, there would still be a clear view of her own academic and personal connection with the text. Of course, the argument would be that she failed to follow directions and thus deserves to be graded down for that. However, I feel it would be unfair of me to do so for any sort of assignment she were to turn in were to contain this level of literary comprehension clearly demonstrates her mastery of the topic.

At first, I was a part of the school of thought that felt if a student didn't follow directions to the letter he or she should me marked down accordingly. After viewing Amanda's and my other classmates projects, it is clearly plain to see that academic and intellectual understanding comes in all shapes and forms. We as future teachers need to be able to accept that in order to get our students to reach their full potential.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


One of our past lectures had us talking about this idea of transmediation. I find this concept extremely interesting as it basically is the process of taking something in one sign system and placing it in another. For our purposes, I am going to establish literary texts as our first sign system.

Now let's say I was teaching 12 grade AP British Literature and our assigned text was the epic poem "Beowulf". Most students react to this text in a "Aw, not another poem" attitude. High school kids hate poetry (I know I foolishly did). Guys usually assign poetry to Romance; essentially a subject they aren't interested in (hence dooming most heterosexual relationships). When girls this isn't a love poem (as they have been socialized to believe all poetry to be), they immediately tune out.

As heroic violence ensues verse after verse, it's realistic to state that most students would be more interested in the text if they could actually see the action unfold. Fortunately (or unfortunately for a literary purest), there have been a handful of film versions of the poem. If you were to poll most high school students, you'd find they much rather watch a movie then read a book. And while a teacher does want to appeal to their student's tastes, it would be erroneous to cast the text aside and make the film the basis of your class's educational focus.

Instead, I would argue that it would be more constructive to use the films as supplementary teaching tools. As students, we are aware of the fact that there are multiple ways in which one learns. While the text can work for one student, a film might be able to better convey the literary elements some students failed to pick up through their reading. When it comes to an English class, we also have to be aware of the fact some of our students won't be at the reading level they're suppose to be. A film can definitely serve as an academic bridge for struggling students.

Transmediating a text to a different sign system like film can be a great tool for teachers to use. Since not all students learn the same way, a different sign system opens up academic doors that would otherwise be closed to them.