This week, I had the chance to introduce a lesson that placed quite a lot more emphasis on thought process than others. The assignment was for students to bring in three objects each and create three ideas for “tags” for each of them, eventually picking their favorite tag and favorite piece to be tagged. Our tags will be made out of creating and cutting out a stencil for paint from oak tag. The project was more open ended than others in the past, but unlike free paints or free draws, offered enough structure to be more flexibly assessed. The students were told that their tags needed to mimic, critique, or compliment the object in either a personal, social, or political context.
As expected, it was difficult at first to get the students to understand what was going on. There were a lot of “so what exactly do you want?” Delineating from the common, strict rubric of tasks understandably results in those blank sorts of stares. In response, I brought in some examples of my own. I explained the importance of the objects to me, and how the tags mimicked that in a way that would clarify that importance to an audience.
Eventually, fascinating objects and stories flooded into the classroom: a stack of sticky notes, an image from a book of a train going by, a photograph of Malcolm X, a pair of old running shoes, and so on. For students who had trouble with coming up with things, I brought in objects from home they could use: A current issue of USA Today and The News Gazette, records, comics, books, and magazines.
One student wants to comment on how sports in America are becoming more accepting of gay players (NFL) but there is still work to be done (NBA). At first she wanted to paint part of the rainbow flag on an American flag. We talked about how that could be read negatively as gay people “taking over America”. The student looked through an “Out” magazine I brought in and found an article about Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player in the NFL. She thought about how progressive that was but how Jason Collins, a man drafted for the NBA, faced struggles when he came out as a gay man. She wanted thought about tagging “NBA” on the article. We discussed how tagging is usually a social critique, and she decided that tagging “NBA” might make it seem that she is saying the progressiveness in the NFL is overshadowed by the struggle within the NBA, which wasn’t her intent. She has dived herself into a complex thought of how her work will come across not only to her, but also to others.
Another student brought in her first pair of running shoes. She became passionate about running when she was in 7th grade. At first she wanted to tag her shoes in a way that showed how much she loved running, but after discussing it with myself and her peers, she realized what she really wanted to convey was how she witnessed so many of her female peers give up sports when they entered high school in favor of becoming full time fans of their male counterparts.
One student identified with Batwoman as the first openly gay lesbian as a comic book protagonist from the comics I brought in, and is contemplating how to represent feminine power as well as pride in her sexual orientation.
Another student is adverse to guns and wants to comment on the gun rate to death rate ratio here in America. I talked to him about how the NRA spams me with countless emails. He is now using my emails as his substrate. He is doing statistics on the discounts shown in the advertisements to calculate how many more guns will be sold and thus, how many more lives will be lost to tag that percentage on the emails. His favorite email is the “NRA wine of the month club” email. We are still thinking of ways to tag that.
Not all of the tags are cynical. Some are beautifully sentimental and poignant.
And not all of these ideas mentioned are from the students commonly seen as the “protégés”, but some from the kids who normally seem to struggle. More often than usual, when I come to a student to offer my advice, they’ll say things like, “ya, that’s what (whoever sits next to or around them) suggested.” Giving them guidelines, but liberty to critically think has afforded me the opportunity to get to know them better as well as them communicate with one another more.
Cell phones and ear buds have been proving to sometimes be a problem. They are allowed to have cell phones out as long as they are looking up something for class. Ear buds are not allowed. We tried to get ear buds approved in our class as a means of positive behavior reinforcement, but we got a no. The cell phone situation is difficult because a kid will just say, “I am looking something up for class” if you ask them to put it away and even if you see them playing a game or strolling through Facebook, we aren’t allowed to take the phones away. Saying “your loss, you’ll just fail” is awful teaching practice, but a solution can be hard to find. With ear buds, I find myself constantly catching the same kids multiple times during class periods with them in. As a comeback, they will stop working and say that they need their music to feel inspired. I have been trying to play their requests through the classroom sound system when they as a reward for them working, but student’s will often complain and mock other choices from other students. Discipline wise, I’d say this is what I need to work on the most currently.