Non-Communicative Future

Yesterday morning in my Comp I class I had them share what they had written for the Portfolio Project that was due.  In the portfolio I had asked them to evaluate themselves as students/learners/writers as well as revise one paper and set some goals. I started doing this type of project in another school, and for the most part feel that it is a successful project. I still feel that, even after grading the projects yesterday, except for one thing. Many of my students don’t know how to communicate. Most of them shared their portfolio in as few sentences as possible–not expanding or explaining unless  I asked questions, barely even listening to each other talk. After that, I vamped for the rest of the time (as I had expected it would take longer) talking about learning, why we need to take writing classes, how would they form their ideal comp class, anything that came to mind. (I used up my material for the last class tomorrow, now I have to think of something else).  But, in typical fashion, two or three of them spoke and the rest stared at me in silence. This has been my semester in this class. It might as well have been a class of three people.

I was teaching writing. I helped some of them improve in grammar and the ability to support an argument. I helped some of them improve as readers, or just gain confidence in their ability to learn. That to me is a success.

But many of them still don’t know how to communicate.

In part of the “discussion” yesterday we talked about the changing forms of communication. For example, the fact that more people function by text messages now than any other form of communication. I mentioned how important it was to learn to write proper e-mails and things. Later in the day, I got this e-mail from one of the students in the class:

“Dear Ms. lisa what would be my grade in the class?!?”

That’s it. That was the extent of the e-mail. Now, let’s forget about the fact that they still haven’t figured out that I am Dr. I just wanted them to call me Lisa, but I usually get one of the following: Teacher,  Ms. Lisa, Mrs. Kramer, Mrs. Lisa, nothing, and on rare occasions Dr. Lisa or Dr. Kramer. But, setting that aside, my name is not capitalized. He didn’t sign it. And he wrote this one sentence when I told them that I would be figuring out the grades and let them know on Friday.

Students today do not know how to communicate.

Vicky, at Little Miss Everything, wrote a post today called “My best friend is a screen” that asks if our future will be this

Sadly, I think we are heading to some form of that. I don’t necessarily believe that everyone will be a fat slob (although there is potential for that too). But I do think that we are losing the ability to communicate face-to-face. We are also losing common courtesy and respect for each other, as our skills in face-to-face communication dwindle.  How often have you sent an e-mail and never gotten a reply? Not even an acknowledgment that the person received your e-mail? How often have you made a phone call asking for a return call and never gotten the call back?

I am guilty of these errors myself. I am bad about writing thank you notes and thanking people for invitations. I’m trying to get better. I don’t like to talk to people on the phone, but I will and I will call back. Sometimes I prefer to e-mail, but I always respond to e-mails. I’m not perfect, but I try.

I worry though that we are raising a generation of people who will never try, because they are too buried in their own pleasure. In the self-evaluation I had several students admit to: texting or listening to music during class, or falling asleep intentionally. But then the following statement would be something like, “I respected my teacher and my classmates.”

Is this respect? Where are we headed in a world that does not respect each other or know how to communicate?

Sorry for the RANT! But what do you think?

[Update, another of my favorite bloggers chose to write about this topic today as well. Check out her post  " A World Without Words".]

Show Don’t Tell, From Page to Stage Version

Each of my young students has a magic invisible box.  I gave it to them a couple of classes ago, after they did excellent jobs at whatever the activity of the day was.

These boxes can grow or shrink to hold anything imaginable in them. They come when called, or can be stored in a pocket. When they are opened, each student can pull out their dreams or their nightmares, things to make us laugh or things to make us squirm in disgust. There are no rules except that they are supposed to show the rest of the group what is in the box so that the group can guess.

One student made her box grow significantly and then dove in to bring out whatever was inside. She made a magnificent display of this action. But then, as she climbed out, she told us “I’m all wet. It’s a squid.”

I didn’t correct her at that point because of her enacting the hunt in the box.

Two students later, a younger student opens the box, pulls something out and promptly says “It’s an octopus.”

“That’s cool,” I said realizing I should have corrected the other student, “But you need to show us, not tell us what is in the box. How can you show us an octopus?”

She turns her hand toward her face and says, “Aaauuuggh! It’s got me!” (Which, I might add is a typical response for this girl. She loves screaming and acting horrified).

“Okay,” I say, still wanting more showing, and less telling. “Everyone help her get the octopus legs off of her.” The students rush to her aid, pulling legs off one at a time. By now there must be multiple octopuses, because I count many more than eight legs. But, at least my point was made, as revealed by the students who followed showing me a dog and a microphone without a single word.

Show, don’t tell.” The axiom every writer knows and perhaps struggles with took on new meaning today, as it came to life beyond the page.

I’ve always known that my training in theater and improvisation has influenced me as a writer. It makes me more confident writing in first person and writing dialogue. I sometimes struggle more when writing in third person because of the narrative focus of that form, rather than the character focus.  This is a reality that I have come to accept about my writing, and I am working to deal with it.

But, as I began to settle down for the evening, the phrase “Show don’t tell!” flashed into my head along with this vision from my class this morning. I am trying to get my students to enact the living version of show don’t tell. Wow! Is this something that I can offer other writers?

A few years ago I wanted to offer an Extended Studies course that explored this concept; using improve and drama in the classroom techniques to motivate writing of all sorts, not just plays. I thought it would be a really interesting way to explore character and relationships or develop problems that then could be placed in a story. I’ve used improvisation and reenactments in lesson plans for young people to introduce a variety of topics.  My favorite has been creating a mysterious island retreat which they get to explore and uncover clues. They find books in the library of a creepy old house and each have time to read some of them. (All enacted in their imagination)  I then ask the students to write a page from the book and then share that writing. The results are always fascinating!

I never did get a chance to offer that class, but I think the time to explore that option has come again. Playwrights often use improvisational workshops to develop their plays, so why not fiction writers of all sorts? Or people who write poetry? Or memoir?

While writing is an individual act, it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. I am learning that through the blogging community. Now, I think, the time has come to make my two passions come together in a new and interesting way.

Anyone care to join me?

The Perennial Student, A Collector of Experiences

Join me at a table in a restaurant set for eight. One empty seat for the woman who does not show. The rest of the seats filled with people who seem to have one passion in common. Well, maybe two . . . the most obvious is their passion for theatre, but the one I am interested in is their passion for experiences and for learning. To this group, I believe, that is the meaning of life. Or perhaps I should say, from this group, I am learning the meanings of my life.

On the end, the youngest member of the party, seven years old with a personality all her own. Bright, energetic, and embracing everything as if it was new. Because it is new. Through her eyes, I re-learn the discoveries of childhood, and begin to learn the truths of parenthood.

Next to her, her father. My partner. A talented man with a job he likes, and a dream he’d love. Through him, I learn about relationships and struggle, as well as how to live embracing simple joys.

Next, after the empty seat, a man who lives his life passionately.  Whether it is raising the child that is his theater company, or helping his family, or fighting for justice and democracy, or saying goodbye to his father (who passed away last week) he throws himself in 110%. From him, I learn the power of passion, but also the necessity of balance.

Next, an actor who is recognized for his work. He has a thriving career, but more importantly he has the desire to share his experiences with others. I don’t know him very well, but listening to him talk I recognize a kindred spirit, one who believes that creating an atmosphere where everyone feels involved is crucial. Through him I learn the value of making choices and committing to them, and that teaching and sharing is part of the journey and the joy.

Across from him, a director who lived through the 60s and evaluates life and belief systems in everyday conversation. He is silent when he has no opinion, but that silence speaks volumes. Through him I learn the subtlety of questioning and experiencing in order to find meaning that rings true to your heart.

Next to him, a man in his 70s who lives and breathes Shakespeare, but is even more than that.  I have been watching him create character in  a way I cannot describe. He takes each word written and uncovers more meanings and variety in ways that I have yet to discover, both as a director and as a writer. Yet, his humble quietness is as powerful as his use of language. From him, I learn to trust the words, because the answers lie in them.

Next to him, a playwright, who writes whatever she is passionate about.  Love. Religion. Tango. She seems to look at the world as an opportunity for learning and questioning. What about this moment, this time, this place is interesting? What can I learn from this person’s story?  What story can I share with others? These are questions that I think she asks herself regularly, and then she tries to answer through words.  From her, I am learning my thoughts matter and that it is time to put them out there,  in my own way.

Finally, we come to me. A well-educated woman who is still searching for what I want to be when I grow up.  At this moment in time, I’m also experiencing an odd layering of life. There is the me who is knowledgeable and professional, who knows a lot about her field. Then there is the me who feels like a student next to these people, and recognizes that is okay. There is the me who feels like a novice, and is afraid of doing something wrong. Then there is the me who is a teacher and a mentor, for my students and my daughter; that is the me of responsibility. Finally, there is the me who simply is.

As I pursue this week of multiple layers, or this meal of multiple moments, I realize that the experiences I have, the learning that I do, is who I am. I am a perennial student.  When I try to be the expert, I feel uncomfortable in my skin. When I embrace the unknown, and admit that I do not know everything, then I feel joy.  Sometimes the unknown is scary and uncomfortable, but what I learn after that is filled with energy.

My work is learning. My work is sharing.

My classroom is life.

The Culture of Bullying

 

Bullying on IRFE as of March 5, 2007 (the firs...

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Bullying!

The word echoes through the air these days.  Every day you hear a new story or of a new death. For me, recently, each day brings a new awareness about the  pervasiveness of this issue.

I want to do something about it.

This week I conducted a workshop at a nearby high school on Performance Art. While Performance Art is not exactly my favorite type of theater, I think it is an interesting thing to introduce to high school students as it provides them an outlet to explore issues using art, theater, music, and other things to express themselves. I introduce the techniques by using a piece of literature or poetry (for this workshop I used “Ozymandias”). I also brought an extra poem to help out, this time one on bullying that I found on a WordPress blog http://bullypoems.wordpress.com/ (thank you to that blog writer).

The students were then given an assignment to create their own piece of performance art, with the only restrictions being that they respect each other and respect school rules. The results were interesting, with topics ranging from family relationships to feeling stressed about choices they needed to make in life. The majority of them, however, were about bullying.

Now, maybe that was a reaction to the poem I read them, but I think it goes deeper than that. In our discussions afterwards most of the students acknowledged that there is bullying at their school. Some of them hesitantly acknowledged to being victims.

More disturbing to me, however, were the number of people who acknowledged being witnesses to bullying, but who simply walked away.

Coincidentally, last night I was asked to adjudicate a performance at another area high school. The play they put on was Bang Bang Your Dead! by William Mastrosimone which explores the issue of bullying from the perspective of a boy who shoots 7 people (5 students and his parents). Not a light evening of theater, that’s for sure. There were two talk-backs after the performance, one for the audience and one between the adjudicators and the cast. Both were revealing.

The first showed that the parents and community are aware of the problem but feeling at a loss as to what can be done.

The second revealed what the kids had learned from this process. Many of them researched and became aware of the amount of bullying that exists in the world, and in their more immediate world. BUT, and this is a disturbing but, their understanding and new knowledge did not promote action. They shared a story that, after a school viewing of the show, some freshman started teasing and throwing food at the lead (the person who played the killer). Rather than saying something, he walked away!

How do we fix this? I know it is scary to confront bullies. I recognize that sometimes it is easier to hide our eyes and pretend we don’t see what is in front of us. But that way lies Columbine. That way lies 9/11. That way lies the Holocaust.

Now, I’m sure somebody will object to me connecting bullying with 9/11 or with the Holocaust, but what is bullying if not a form of intolerance? It is about someone showing power over weakness, or trying to pretend to have power by making others feel weak. In a way, bullying is human nature, in the sense of survival of the fittest. The strong win and the weak are destroyed. Bullying is not something that occurs just between children in school, it is just that in some ways adult bullying is more subtle. That doesn’t make it any less dangerous however.

If bullying is human nature, does that mean there is no hope of change? It has become crucial for us, as a society, to break free of this negative quality of human nature. We need to learn to respect and value diversity, otherwise there will never be an end to violence, hatred, death (by violence) and bullying.

I hope we can do it.

With more people like this hero, Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better”, we can.

Another important link about this: http://newsroom.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/15/it-will-get-better/

And in a few short words, this person hits the nail on the head http://broadsideblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/they-taped-their-roommate-and-outed-him-on-the-internet-now-hes-dead/