Six Word Slice of Life: Protest

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: Today is the National Student Walk-Out Day, and although our elementary school is not officially part of the student-led protest against gun violence and in favor of more gun control, my heart is with students everywhere. My sons (13 and 17) will likely take part in walk-outs planned at their two schools. Students in the middle and high school in my district — my former students — will be involved in protest and activities. Will any of my current sixth graders want to walk out today? Or have 17 minutes of silence? Not one has mentioned doing so to me and our administration has not pushed the issue, due to the thorny debates and age of our students, and snow days and other things have disrupted our schedule. We’ll see. My thoughts will be with all students, everywhere, today, that they can make the change the adults are afraid to make.

Six Word Slice of Life Protest

Peace (bringing the possibility),
Kevin

Six Word Slice of Life: Visiting Teachers

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: Yesterday, two seventh English teachers from the middle school came down to visit our sixth grade classroom. They have been making the rounds to all five of our regional elementary schools, to peek at what kinds of writing and learning are going on. We were able to chat for about 30 minutes about a range of topics, including finding a shared sixth grade novel that could become a touchstone text for discussions when all sixth graders arrive together in seventh grade (but different from a summer reading book). It was a nice visit, very positive, and my students were just starting an Interactive Fiction project, so they were excited and energized and happy to talk with our visitors about what they were up to with writing. We don’t do enough of these kinds of visiting classrooms in our district, and almost never do we do seventh grade teachers coming into sixth grade classrooms (and vice versa). So, this was a welcome endeavor.

Six Word Slice of Life Visitors

Peace (visits us),
Kevin

Six Word Slice of Life: Play Quidditch Plays

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: If you have been hanging out with me for many March SOLs behind us, you know that this time of year, our sixth grade shifts into Quidditch Season. Yes, we play our version of Quidditch — this is the 19th year of it. This version of the game was first developed by students, and then we have adapted it over the years. I try to incorporate different writing activities into our class as part of these activities (which culminate in a day-long Quidditch Tournament between the four sixth grade classrooms). One of the expository writing pieces I have them do is to design a Quidditch play and then write an explanation of how to play the play. This connects to our work with informational text, of using images as a text, and Quidditch itself.

Six Word Slice of Life Quidditch Plays

Want a closer look at some of the plays?

Quidditch Play Collage 2018

Want to learn how we play our version of Quidditch? (It’s very different from the college-level game)

Peace (on and off the court),
Kevin

 

Six Word Slice of Life: Story Branches

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: We began our unit this week on Interactive Fiction, stories where there are “branches” or choices to be made, and every decision sends you on another path. A few kids have read these stories, and some immediately connect to the narrative arcs of video games, but for others, this is a whole new way of thinking of reading, and then writing, a story. So, I begin with read-aloud, and as a class, we make choices on the flow of a story — this one is called The Green Slime. On the board, I map out the choices we make, showing in visual fashion the various “branches” of the story. Four classes, one book, four very different maps.

Six Word Slice of Life Branches

Peace (branches for support),
Kevin

Six Word Slice of Life: Questions (on the bus line)

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: It’s an unscheduled early dismissal day because of the impending snow. The students are all waiting in line, ready to depart to the bus loop, with the understanding of knowing we went just long enough not to have to make up the day in June. Winter has already taken its toll, and our school district is threading the needle on this Nor’easter storm and its strange timing. A question works its way down the line: What’s the first thing you will do when you get home today? Food, play, sleep, read are common answers. Me, too.

Six Word Slice of Life Waiting

Peace (waiting it out),
Kevin

Six Word Slice of Life: Keyboard Symphony

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: We’re winding down an essay project on inventions. The other day, as every student in my entire class was working hard at moving from rough draft to final draft on the laptops, I noticed the sound of fingers on keys, clicking. When it’s just you, alone, you may notice the sound of your own starts and stops. When it’s a classroom of 20 sixth graders, the rhythm of writing takes hold in interesting ways, as a sort of collective writing symphony.

Six Word SOL Symphony

Peace (make writing into music),
Kevin

Slice of Life: I’m Tall(er)

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays — and some do every day in March for the Slice of Life Challenge — about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It was the end of the day, yesterday, the first day back after February break. All the kids were looking tired. I felt it. We were waiting by the door for the bus kids to be called. Walkers and pick-ups had already gone.

“I feel tall,” she said, looking at me. “As if I grew over the weekend. I think I did. I think I got taller over the weekend.”

“Can you dunk?”

“What?”

“Can you dunk at the hoop? How about the ceiling? Can you touch the ceiling yet? I bet you’re tall enough for that.”

She smiled, and shook her head at my absurd reaction.

“Mr. H.”

“Try on your tippy toes!”

“Mr. H!”

Her voice contained exaggerated exasperation, the result of our light-hearted give and take that has been going on since September at the end of most days, waiting for the bus announcement, as if Godot might be arriving at any moment. Beckett would have approved of the absurdity of most of our end-of-day conversations.

Then.

“Really, though, everything looks … different … and I think it’s because I’m taller.”

I nodded, now in serious agreement. She did seem taller, if only in perspective. The speaker announced the busses, and she certainly walked a lot quicker than I remember.

Peace (in the look),
Kevin

The Arming of Teachers? Are You Insane?

Let me get this out of the way. Arming teaching in schools as a policy to protect students is a completely insane idea. Let me also note: I live in liberal Western Massachusetts, where an aversion to the NRA’s right-wing politics is part of the environment. I lean politically left. But I was also in the National Guard, trained as an infantry soldier and I was a platoon sergeant, so I know my way around a wide assortment guns.

Arming teachers is an insane idea.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

The idea of arming teachers in schools is something I have been following for the past two years or so, as my documentary filmmaking neighbor and friend, Julie Akaret, has been working on a movie that was once called Good Guy with a Gun, and now is called G is for Gun (The Arming of Teachers in America). You can see a photo essay by one of the film’s producers. They have traveled to Ohio many times, visiting schools where teachers are being trained to carry guns in school.

I have supported her through Kickstarter and have been part of the early preview feedback audience of the film as she and her partner have worked on it. The first round of showing of their film will be taking place next month on Ohio public television in March and then they hope other affiliates will take up their story of guns in the hands of teachers in the schools where young people are. The time for the topic is right, sad to say.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

It’s insane.

And you knew it was only a matter of time before the rising up of youths in Florida would lead to the NRA-backed politicians saying that what we need is MORE guns, not fewer. Sure enough, the news this morning shows President Trump calling for the arming of teachers.

Insane.

But par for the course, unless those young people in Florida and elsewhere finally change the narrative and pressure on politicians to buck the NRA and gun lobby. More guns are not the answer. Making teachers into a militia is not the answer. More restrictive gun laws, and more support for enforcement of those laws, is what’s needed. Who will be brave enough on the GOP side to take a stand?

Don’t hold your breath.

Peace (in our schools),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Meme Walks Into the Classroom

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Most mornings, we have a Circle of Power and Respect in our sixth grade classroom. It’s a version of Morning Meeting, aimed more for older students. At this point in the year, I have my students lead all aspects of our morning.

One element of Circle of Power is the initial greeting, and there are all sorts of variations of activities that one could do, and I encourage my students to invent their own way of saying hello to every students in the classroom community, and making sure everyone feels welcome into the day.

The other day, the student leader — a bit of a goofball who straddles the line between serious and goofy on a regular basis — told us that the way we would greet each other is with the phrase “Do you know the way?”

Or, as he pronounced it with exaggerated emotion: “Do you know de wae?”

I did a little double-take because as soon as he said it, there was a lot of laughter in the room. I had never heard the phrase, but I could sense immediately this was some sort of online joke, video, game or meme that was outside my field of vision.

I had three options as teacher at that moment:

  • I could say, find another greeting, but that seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to youth culture
  • Stop everything and search online, but that would have gummed up the morning meeting time
  • Ask for more information, which I did

The student told me the phrase was from a game that became a meme, and he assured me it was not inappropriate for school. I decided to trust him, and the phrase of “Do you know de wae?” made its way around the circle.

Later, I immediately went into Know Your Meme, a database in which memes are deconstructed and traced back to their origins. According to Know Your Meme, the “Do you know de wae?” and found that it originated from a character in a Sonic the Hedgehog game called Uganda Knuckles.

From Know Your Meme:

Ugandan Knuckles is the nickname given to a depiction of the character Knuckles from the Sonic franchise created by YouTuber Gregzilla, which is often used as an avatar by players in the multiplayer game VRChat who repeat phrases like “do you know the way” and memes associated with the country Uganda, most notably the film Who Killed Captain Alex? and Zulul. The character is associated with the expression “do you know the way”, which is typically spoken in a mock African accent and phonetically spelled as “do you know de wey.”

The meme has gone in all sorts of strange directions.

There have been accusations that the meme has racist overtones, however, with the pronunciation in fake African accent and may be built upon African stereotypes. Roblox, a very popular gaming platform site, apparently even banned the character from its server games because of concerns about negative stereotypes.

After talking some more with my students about using the meme, now that I had some information to speak from, I realized that they were not even aware of the racist possibilities. They were just amused by the funny character who repeats the same ridiculous phrase over and over again. Still, a discussion helped frame the meme, and I haven’t heard it in the classroom since then.

I did ask my own 13 year old son when I got home that same day if he had heard of the “Do you know de wae?” meme. He goes to a different school in a different community, with a different crowd of kids, and he immediately knew of the meme, too. (A year or so ago, we had a long discussion with him about using Pepe the Frog and he was startled by the how the far-right had appropriated that meme for its own dark purposes.) Needless to say, he immediately knew the meme and said many kids in his school were saying it in the hallways, as they moved from lockers to classrooms — sort of as a directional sarcasm of the school-day experience.

All this goes to show the cultural power of memes and the difficulty we adults have in understanding their stickiness, never mind the origins and the mad rush of social sharing across platforms. Memes often are part of the language of youth, even if they don’t always comprehend the underlying cultural appropriations and potentially negative messages embedded in the memes they use.

Peace (meme-ing it),
Kevin