Sunday, March 20, 2011

Good Things are Happening:Teaching & Learning (Part 2)

In a recent post, I profiled a Communications 11/12 class taught by Mrs. Bronwyn Fackler that had worked on technology presentations about Social Issues (here), and the associated skills needed for students to be proficient in this area.  It was an inspiring lesson because it showcased some creative teaching strategies and celebrated some fantastic student work.  Shortly after observing that class, I stumbled upon an English 11 Incentive class and got the chance to watch the presentations they had been working on representing the poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" using music.  Again, the students were so engaged and will remember the processes and learning that took place in the class for a long, long time.  It was inspiring for me to observe, and I asked the teacher if she would be willing to comment on the process.  Mrs. Debbie Ten-Pow is today's guest blogger:

            I would like to claim ownership of all great teaching ideas, but I am of the belief that most thoughts have been experienced at some point by others and over time are just renamed and described slightly differently. I have been teaching this lesson on and off for many years; and while I would love to claim it as my own original idea, I am quite certain that I came across it while reading or while conversing with a friend.           

            In any case, one afternoon, Jason happened upon my students carrying violins, guitars even lugging a cello into my English classroom and being his curious, investigative self, he invited himself in to observe.

            We had just spent a week studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner; we had just spent sixteen minutes listening to Iron Maiden’s version of this lyrical ballad. We needed to get the rock beat out of our heads.  There are seven parts to the poem so students were divided into seven groups and assigned a section of the poem. They then had to select a different music genre -- country/western, rap, hip-hop, opera, lullaby, anthem, disco.  Students were asked to write lyrics and to find or compose music for their assigned parts and genre; they had to show understanding of the content of the poem as well as capture the atmosphere and tone of their passage.

            The students worked extremely hard and after a few days of planning and rehearsing, students did a live performance during class.

            The students were also asked to respond, individually, in writing about their process and the contributions they and their bandmates made to the procedure.  Here is a sampling of what they wrote:

* “I found this one of the most fun and exciting projects of the class.  Putting lyrics to the poem and choosing the song to do so with, especially under a genre constraint, was an excellent way to get involved in the story.”
* “We also spend a large percentage of our work time working on the syllables and rewriting verses of the poem...not only did the lines have to match the syllables of the song, but it had to rhyme as well.”
* “This project was very unlike any other project that I have had to do.  It was very enjoyable and felt very satisfying when we were able to fit parts of the poem into the song.”
* It was difficult at times to combine both the lyrics of the song and the story together because of the rhythms...This project was engaging and allowed us to gain understanding of the story in modern day language.”
* “I had such a fun time with this assignment.  At first, I was a bit hesitant, but as my group worked farther into the song-writing process, we became excited and engaged.
* “Can we do this again for Macbeth?”

(Music to an English teacher’s ears.)
Below are the video snippets of the student performances (my apologies for the poor video quality).

Like the Communications project, this was an incredibly creative class from both a teaching and learning perspective.  The chance for students to create inspired them to be engaged and to work together, learning so many more skills than just the understanding of the poem.  Most exciting for the teacher and for myself was seeing the students engaged to the level they were, thoroughly involved in all the processes required for the group and the assignment to come together.

Thanks so much to Mrs. Ten-Pow and the class for inviting me to observe.  This is great teaching and learning, and it makes me proud of the work being done at this school.  Again, I welcome the opportunity to observe other classes in the school where creative teaching and learning are being promoted.  We need to continue to share these success stories.

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