Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Class Economy Part 6: A Study In Advertising Genres

It's been a while since I've hit the pause button on this series, so here's a quick review of what I've done so far:
Part 1: My Class Economy- an Introduction

Part 2: Creating Meaningful Classroom Jobs
Creating classroom jobs that kids will be both interested in and learn from

Part 3: Managing Accounts, Writing Checks, Workshops, and Bonuses
Learning how to deposit and withdraw money from our bank.

Part 4: What Does It Mean To Produce Something?
Videos, Books, and Field Trips to help us prepare to be Entrepreneurs

Part 5: The Christmas Firings
The mid-year switch from "Government Jobs" To Entrepreneurs

So now that we're caught up, let's dive into part 6: The study of advertising genres.

The Power of Slogans and Logos
The first thing I do in January is ask students to identify this:

I've taught this in approximately 397 countries, and they all get it. 
But the recognition of simple images is only one part of the lesson. 
The other part is when someone groans. Because they're hungry. Because they see that slogan and it reminds them of food.
That's amazing.
And that's a great hook when I introduce commercial genres with something I call, "Tasty and Delicious":

So that's how I use the idea of logos (and eventually slogans) to transition into commercial genres. The genres are the real meat of this lesson. Because you can take a single product... let's say socks... and package it in a different genre to appeal to different types of people.

These socks are for those that love adventure.

These socks will make your life better and more fun.

These socks are for those that love to look cool.

These socks are for those who have a sense of humor.

These socks are action-packed!

But wait... these are all the same brand of sock!

If only they exploded

I eventually split the kids up into small groups, give each group a bunch of print ads, and see if they can define a genre from them. Genres like those listed above are fairly easily discovered. But there are some tricky ones. Specifically the idea of transfer or what my students eventually call metaphor.
This one is for face cream

Eventually we move into commercials and identify multiple genres in an advertisement:

This one seems to have elements that appeal to everyone

We watch and study a lot. We try to identify the slogans and logos. We try to identify the genre or genres. And we try to see how well the ad connects with us regardless of the product so we can identify which genres are most effective on us. 

Then we start writing. By this time the kids have an idea of what they want to sell, and they'll try to write an ad for it. I'll usually give them a choice. For example, either write a humor ad or an action ad. 

After they write an ad, I give them a choice of different genres using their same product. For example, 
either write a lookin' cool ad or a metaphor ad.

After they've written three scripts in three different genres, we work on revising and combining the genres until we have a polished product. That's the hard part. The fun part comes immediately after when we start to film. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Using Back Channels During A Vow Of Silence

This past year, 4th grade held their second annual No-Talk-A-Thon; a vow of silence fundraiser to help support our sister school.
Based on the book No Talking 
by Andrew Clements

We used Class Dojo to keep track of the hours we kept silent. For every hour we were silent, the child added a point to their avatar.
And everyone chose hours they were comfortable with

This year I deliberately tried to use back channels as a main medium of communication throughout the day, along with individual whiteboards and pantomiming. When the kids entered the classroom, the morning message directed them to look at their emails. They were then greeted with this message:

Hi everyone,
And welcome to our day of silence. To help us with our day of silence, I've set up some special rooms for us. I'll explain all of them before we begin.

General Discussions
Work Related Discussions (Writing, Math, etc)
Class Story: Told In 3 Word Chunks

Book Clubs:
Clues In The Woods
Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief
The Westing Game

Good luck with your fund raising!
Mr. Ryan

I'll explain what these virtual rooms were and how they turned out.*
General Discussions
I thought it was important to have a room for general chatting. We didn't have many opportunities to use this, and the kids preferred their individual white boards when "talking" during break or between subjects. However it was used to communicate thoughts to the whole class. For example, one student needed to tell the class that the third graders were trying to get her to talk, so it was a nice warning system.
Rating: 3 out of 5 General Stars 

Work Related Discussions
This was probably a good idea. But because of the way the lessons were scheduled on this day, outside of Book Club (which had its own discussion rooms) there really wasn't a need for peer discussion.
Rating: 2 out of 5 cubicles

Class Story
This idea was lifted directly from the book No Talking. But instead of speaking, we wrote a story in 3 word chunks. If TodaysMeet worked closer to the definition of what a backchannel was (a real time electronic discussion), this would have been more successful. I wanted it to be a time filler during down time, but everyone's down time seemed to overlap, and the story wasn't updated in real time. The end result was a little incoherent.

The kids loved it anyway. And it created several teachable moments such as, "You're a better writer than making just poop and fart additions to the story." A piece of advice that I should have been proactive with instead of reactive.
Rating: 4 out of 5 toilets

Book Clubs
At the time, I was running three book clubs focused on the mystery genre: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen, and Clues In The Woods by Peggy Parish. Therefore for each book club discussion, I set up a different room. Here's a sample from the Sammy Keyes book club:

It's hard to write about what you are thinking! Especially if you can't type fast. Still there was an overwhelming positive response to this and all three book clubs begged to do it again even if we didn't have a vow of silence. It was a great exercise in learning how to quickly and concisely communicate complex ideas through writing.
Rating: 5 out of 5 clubs

Monday, July 22, 2013

Three 4th Grade Blogging Exemplars from the 2012-13 School Year

I've been running this blog for two years now and I've really enjoyed writing for the many spambots that frequent my blog each day. Without you, it would only be me and possibly my one follower visiting.
You complete me.

But I marvel at the diversity of topics and quality of writing that my 4th graders blog about. I don't spend a lot of time creating structure for individual blogs in my class. I only really do three things:

1) I show them examples
The examples I showed last year included NeverSeconds, a great review site of student lunches and the evolution of a clever idea turned world wide phenomenon.
And also the edublog award nominees.

2) I remind them of their passions, and then let them write about whatever they want

3) I give time for them to share their writing with each other.

For this post I'd like to feature some of the different topics highlighted by individual posts that were created this year with those three simple rules. I'm only including three exemplars because having any more would stretch this post out too much. But other ideas and themes that were written about this year were: Travel stories and place reviews, Nepal highlights (the author felt there was too much negative publicity about Nepal and he wanted to show the good stuff), airplane simulator screen casts and plane reviews, book review podcasts, and video game reviews.

1) Poetry. A lot of kids chose to write poetry on their blog. I love that. I teach poetry as a year-long unit focusing on free verse, and it's so exciting to watch the kids evolve with their poetry in particular and their writing in general. I chose the post below because not only is it a heart breaking poem, but the author takes it a step further and declares her plans to turn the event into a Scratch project.*

My Poem, on Scratch
I made a poem called death. It goes like this:

I hear the doorbell.
The vet has come.
Sylvie lies on my bed, asleep.
as the vet comes in, I see determination in Sylvie's eyes, a fire, blazing with strength, but it is smouldered by agony.
I understand her pain.
She was taken from her mother when she was so young, and was put in a pet shelter. Nobody wanted her, and she was facing euthanasia, death, cruelty, injections; they were all looking at her hungrily, like a starving fox. She looked back at those evils, her small body rigid, her eyes cold.
but now, there is no escaping it.
her burning flame flickered out. A life lost.
As the vet left, emotionless and smug,I stared at his back. Anger burned inside me, a blazing fire, eating everything in it's path.
Except my grief.
If only there was another way. 
But that small body, the heartbeat of our house, now she is dead. We have lost everything that is valuable to us.

soon, this poem will be in the form of a scratch project.

2) Reviews There were all kinds of reviews in class this year. I'm featuring this fashion review because I liked that the author not only featured clothes she wore, but clothes from our host country (This photo in this post was modeled by the author's housekeeper). I also like that she had a rating system and different categories.

Today i'm going to share with you a black sari a typical nepali dress usually worn for special occasion's.
A sari is made out of a cloth wrapped around and wearing a small shirt under and if you have a black sari you would have a black shirt.I would recommend this outfit with red lip stick and a small hand bag.

Style Review:
being comfortable:5|10
Style O' Meter10|10
if you go to nepal you can buy saris in street shops. For shoes i would put in high heals.

3) Stories as Metaphors. We work on metaphors all year long, so it's exciting when an entire story is a metaphor. 

The Fake Battle

This post is about a disease I have. It's permanent. It's called Celiac disease. You can't have wheat or gluten. Gluten is the binder in wheat. It's what makes noodles noodles. Wheat is what grows in fields, those long stalks.  If I do have wheat/ gluten I'll get diarrhea, headaches, stomach pains, foot pains, and I sometimes throw up. It stinks. I can't have a lot of things.

This is about a fake battle between wheat and non-wheat food. It takes place in my stomach and what it does metaphorically.

They are prepared. Ready to fight. The fruitarians, dairyans, ice-creamease,meatanese and all of the villagers of Noglu city were ready for the attack. King Steakleg & Queen Cream of Noglu were sending troops to the border of the city. The city held a special top secret object called the Celia of Destiny. That was what the wheatarians wanted from them. If they steal the Celia the food world will fall and it wouldn't be a pretty sight. In the distance a thundering sound shook the walls of Noglu city. It was the deadly sandwich bomb! BOOM! The war began! It shattered glass of the buildings. A roaring stampede approached the city. The soldiers of Noglu charged at them riding there killer fish horses. Sharp bread-stick spears flew through the air. Celery swords clanged against each other. Wheatarians were winning every second, they killed so many. The general of the army of Noglu had no idea how they would do to win this war. King Steakleg and Queen Cream decided on something they never tried before and to only use only in extreme cases.The only thing they knew what to do was unleash the food they called bad boy. 

Bad Boy is the deadly gluten-free pizza. He can eat anything whatever is in his path.  The Wheatairians were absolutely terrified of bad boy even though they still were winning. Ketchup cannons fired with all their might as cupcakians threw their mighty carrot spears. Bad Boy was on the move and ready for any kind of weapons thrown at him. Smashing cookies leaving them just for crumbs. Grabbing bread soldiers and holding them in a tight grip while squeezing all the moisture out of the bread's bodys. A vicious wheat eater was the most best thing for the Noglutarians and they were winning every minute of the war. The Wheatarians were insanely jealous of the ginormous monster that the Noglutarians had summoned to destroy all the soldiers of Wheatania. One way or another they were going to get their chance of revenge. The wheatarians decided to unleash their monster. Bad Girl. A much more advanced piece of food than Bad Boy. Bad Girl was going to steal the Celia of Destiny.

(This story actually continues and is spanned over several blog posts)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stargirl and the 4th Grade Class Blog

It took me a while to decide how to do a class blog. I finally pulled my inspiration from Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli:
Specifically when Stargirl is talking to Leo and she says, "If I ran the front page, I would put painted doors and ants on the front page, and all the bad stuff on page 10." 

I love this idea of celebrating things we usually take for granted, and writing about things we normally wouldn't. We talked about it during a class meeting. Then we took a vote on the name and the slogan and came up with 

The Lincoln Gazette: Where Small Things Are Big News

I decided on the dearly departed Posterous as our platform because it looked great, had a newspaper like template, and you could email your posts directly to the blog:*

The above screenshot is kind of hard to read. It showcases 6 student reports with the following headlines:

  • Boy Gets Invited To House On Saturday For Dinner
  • Friend Got To International Club To Watch Tennis
  • Smackdown in grade four!
  • Boy Plays Board Game, Makes Connection
  • Boy Figures Out A tune on the piano
  • Girl Visits American Club

  • This page showcases a lot of activities, but the class blog became more than what we did. 
    Here are some other headlines:
    • White Spot Noticed On Wall
    • New Fountain Helps Animals
    • Building Next Door Never Finishes Construction
    • Orange Tree Grows In Garden
    • Flaw Noticed On Tibetan Furniture

    Writing the headlines in itself was a great lesson and an authentic way to introduce subject-predicate-object and other grammer lessons.

    Beyond headlines though, it took some time to figure out what exactly could be written on the Lincoln Gazette. We did some writing on our Edmodo forum page and talked about whether the ideas would fall into Stargirl's definition or not.

    And it wasn't until my class started writing in this way that I realized that Stargirl's idea is actually two-fold: To celebrate the uncelebrated, and to notice the unnoticed. Because not everything we notice for the first time is going to be a happy thing. Here's an example:

    The Tree With No Leafs

    In Ayushma's garden, there is a big tree without any leafs. Just a few weeks ago, Ayushma noticed at least a branch full of leaves. Now since the leafs are gone, it kind of looks creepy. The tree looks creepy, because it sort of is like halloween. At night Ayushma dares not to look out of the garden. She hates it how the tree sways by the breeze. Ayushma sort of doesn't like to go outside and just relax by leaning against the tree. Ayushma says that once the tree has leafs covering every branch of the tree, she will lean against the tree, go around it, and have fun with the tree again.By: Ayushma

    I love this article. And it's not a celebration. If I carry the idea over for next year, I'll probably try to set the distinction at the beginning, because I think it's awesome to notice things we don't usually notice, and it's awesome to celebrate things we don't usually celebrate, but it's also important to make the distinction between the two.

    Eventually we expanded our class blog to other interests. We created Stargirl's "page 10" where we wrote some of the negative stuff we noticed (there's a lot in Kathmandu), and the class decided they wanted to have a page that featured animals and a page that featured sports. By the time we expanded our online newspaper, the kids were off and running with their own blogs.

    Saturday, July 6, 2013

    The Last Week Of School: Resolving the "Experiencing" Self with the "Remembering" Self

    Bear with me here.
    This may get a little uncomfortable.
    I'm going to try to connect a TED talk that focuses on colonoscopies with the elementary classroom environment.

    Each year my classroom and I make a story. It starts on the first day of school, and the main part ends on the last day of school. I keep in contact with several of my students during the summer through Edmodo, but if our class year is a story, then the analogy should hold that a critical part of that story is the ending. A good story isn't good without a good ending.

    This seems to be supported by research. As the TED talk below shows, people with a good colonoscopy that ended with pain had a more difficult memory of a bad colonoscopy with a good ending. There's a direct conflict with the "experiencing" self and the "remembering" self.

    I was thinking of how this applies to my practice.
    Of course we want our students to have equally happy "experiencing" and "remembering" selfs. But there is no doubt that endings are extremely important.

    So how does this apply to the last week of school?

    There are reasons why we have end-of-the-year class parties. The academics are finished and we want to exit on a high note. Ultimately we want to do something collaborative and fun.  Our instincts as teachers is to bring the classroom family together for a final time in an activity that trumps any testing or stress that the class has gone through.
    Beyond the classroom party, one end-of-year activity I love to run is a lip dub. I've run lip dubs as an after school activity and as an entire Elementary school project. But a class lip dub is a great way to end the school year on a collaborative-high-note. The children are excited to work together, they plan and coordinate, it doesn't take a lot of energy, it's a lot of fun, so that the "experiencing" self is satisfied. The end video creates a lasting memory that the "remembering" self can hold onto.

    This year my class split into two different lip dubs: "Fireworks" (shown above), and "Rolling in the Deep." I made sure that we would only do two songs if everyone was in both.
    Both were filmed on the same day, and it was a great way to end the year.
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