36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

You and your students sometimes need a break from the books in the book room. And you also may need a rest from working with non-fiction text, short passages, paperbacks that are never quite as up-to-the-minute as you had hoped. Audiobooks are a great alternative to solo silent reading—not that we aren’t still trying to get students to love the experience of sitting with a book—but even they can get a little stale.

Unfortunately, musical theatre, one of the forms that has much to offer our media-saturated students is usually beyond the price range of our instructional budgets. Films are great, but for full-length films, we often need class time or a budget to make outside-of-class viewing feasible. Problems, problems, problems.

But there’s a new experiment you might want to check out. Good news: It’s a relationship story filled with intrigue. Good news: It’s a musical, but it’s also a play. Good news: It has appealing actors—Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton—performing in what is a hybrid of audiobooks and musical theatre. Good news: It can be downloaded for free. (Slightly less good news: There are a few short ads embedded in the podcast.)

Do you know what the 36 Questions to Fall in Love are? Maybe your students do…okay, maybe slightly more of your female than male students do (or maybe not, you might be surprised). Okay, well, the psychological angle to this podcast created by Two Up musical writers Chris Littler and Ellen Winter builds on the popular cultural discussion about whether getting to know certain things about another person is the path to falling in love with them. You and your students can learn more about the psychological research in a New York Times article that links to an essay about the 36 questions phenomenon. Go to this page, see a brief article, and even access a podcast of Mandy Len Catron’s essay from The Times “Modern Love” column.

The musical complicates matters a bit, though. What if a person thinks they know someone, but really doesn’t? Will resetting their relationship by answering the questions lead (back) to love?

At this point, you may be wondering what IS this podcast? What is it about? Is it really something that might interest my students?

I can’t tell you for sure, but I think you should check it out. Go to https://36questions.bandcamp.com/ to listen, or look up the “36 Questions” podcast on the Apple store. Download the podcast, and give it a listen in your car on the way to work or to pick up the kids from their activities. You might notice as you listen that the creators are doing something more than straightforwardly telling a story through audio…though they are doing that too. They are also using subtle clues tailored to this particular medium to draw their audience into curiosity about the characters we meet but can’t see. Sound plays a wonderfully complex role in this story, so you’ll feel yourself noticing that audio effects are not just creating the reality we are being encouraged to visualize, but rather—as in old-fashioned radio drama—stimulating a listener’s attention in directions the writers think will serve their larger themes, characterization, and story arc.

One warning: The story is a relationship story, and though its details are not harsh, there are a few references to sexual matters…relatively brief, not overly explicit, but likely best suited to mature high school students.  

What I’ve sketched out here is a rough set of complementary texts—an audio podcast or two, some short journalistic articles and essays, and then a wide set of texts that you might link to these when you investigate this podcast musical and the constellation of interviews, reviews, and commentaries available online. I’m sure you’ll find listening to the musical an enjoyable way to spend some time, and you might get some creative ideas for how working with such interconnected media texts might help you find a few new paths to engaging your students with characters, storytelling, and the psychology of human relationships.

 

Thomas C. Crochunis

Shippensburg University

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

So now that you’re done with school, the time to decompress and recharge has arrived. Whether you’re at year 3 or year 30, teachers need the summer to relax and build up that energy reservoir for the next year. Summer professional development is important and useful, and I know many of you will do training, meet with teachers, attend conferences, and read professional books (I will, too). But here’s a summer to-do list for teachers that will help you really relax and recharge so you can return to school ready for students.

1. Binge watch that one show all you students were talking about. Especially if you wouldn’t normally watch it. Even if you just watch 3 episodes in a row, you’ll at least know the characters and the basics when you see your students next. (Pro tip: ask students via social media like twitter which show to binge watch). My high school students recommended, among other shows, both Orange is the New Black and 13 Reasons Why.

2. Stay in your pajamas all day and do not cook one meal. Pretend you’re back in college and do not be productive for one entire day. If you have kids, they probably won’t mind pjs and cereal all day. Allow yourself one full day with no responsibilities. This can be hard for us, since we’re so used to getting things done, and the summer is time to get things done you can’t do during the school year.  However, you need to take a full 24 hours off from doing things. Order in, or just eat from your cupboards. Ask your significant other or kids to make food. If you’re not sure how to *not* do things all day, try #1.

3. Leave your computer and phone and go outside all day. We’re so connected, even during the summer. Whether you’re checking the news, finding summer PD, or trying to work on curriculum, give yourself a day without any screens. No TV, no computer, no phone. Go enjoy the natural world. This will allow you, as Thoreau says, to “maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” Recharge your nature batteries, whether it is at the beach, on a hike, or in your backyard. Just don’t forget the sunblock.

4. Call a non-teacher friend and go out to lunch. You should go out with teacher buddies, too, but this one is important. If you go out to lunch with a non-teacher, it means you will probably not talk about school, lessons, administration, students, parents, or curriculum.  It means you’ll have conversations about family, the news, movies, or the food you’re eating.  Enjoy a full conversation and meal without being a teacher, you’ll just be a friend.

5. Freewrite about what you never have time for and then do it. OK, so this is kind of an assignment. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Freewrite for five minutes without stopping on this prompt: What do you feel you never have time to do, but really want to do? I did this and was surprised. I thought I would discover I wanted to write more. You know what? Deep down, I want to cook more elaborate meals, and in the summer, I have time to do that: time to chop veggies, simmer, prepare complex dishes that normally would not happen when I come home from school. Freewrite until you figure out what you actually wish you were doing. Then take some time this summer to do it!  In the meantime, I’m headed to the grocery store to buy ingredients and start cooking.

Happy Summer!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Allison Irwin

Now that we’re winding down to the end of the year and all that’s left to do is proctor finals and tally the grades, I find myself looking for next year’s greatest lesson. What should I change about my instruction? What will captivate my often less-than-enthusiastic audience? Where, oh where should I go to find a resource that is worth sharing in the precious few moments I get with my students each day?

In my googling frenzy, I stumbled across this precious gem from The Learning Network at the New York Times:

8 Compelling Mini-Documentaries to Teach Close Reading and Critical Thinking Skills

When I wrote to Michael Gonchar, Deputy Editor of the New York Times Learning Network, he replied within hours.  It’s easy to tell that this educator-turned-editor has a passion for learning.  When you look to the Film Club, you will see that he plays a big part in that initiative.   In his reply to my email he wrote:

“Thank you for your email. I love the Op Docs in The Times, and I’m really hoping that Film Club will catch on with even more teachers. I think it’s a great resource, especially for ELA teachers. All of these very cool short documentary films make for engaging content for writing, discussing and thinking. I’m so glad to hear that you’re excited about it too, and that you’ll be sharing it with teachers across PA.”

Hopefully more teachers will begin using these valuable resources available on the New York Times Learning Network! I can’t express enough the importance of free, thought-provoking resources that have clearly been developed by someone who knows and understands education.

Here are five reasons why you should absolutely check this out.

1) There is no time to watch a 2-hour video.

I’ve never been one for popping in a movie at the end of the year and coasting through June. That’s what summer is for. Or lazy, rainy afternoons at home on my couch. This post on The Learning Network blog opened my eyes to the possibilities of showing and discussing a short (less than 10 minutes) film. I’ve never considered this before. I could easily plan a 50 minute lesson around a pre-reading activity, video (reading – treat it like a text), and post-reading activity.  While this could be utilized at any point throughout the year, I see this format being particularly engaging in June.

2) The mini documentaries in the Film Club are well produced!

I actually want to watch these films. They have enough created by now that you could either look for the latest additions to their series or you could search for a subject that applies to what your classroom goals are at the moment. As a reading teacher, I find it particularly easy to choose engaging texts – YES VIDEOS COUNT AS TEXT 😊 – since I can teach reading strategies regardless of the content of the chosen text. Even though other teachers may be more shackled to a curriculum, with over 50 short films to choose from, you’re bound to find something that is applicable.

3) “They tell stories that often remain hidden, and introduce us to people and places foreign to us.”

My favorite quote from the original blog post on The Learning Network.  Joyfully and unabashedly making connections to abstract places, feelings, and situations that are foreign to us is one of the most valuable skills we can teach teenagers and young adults. So often kids are afraid of being wrong or sounding like an outcast. Or sounding like they sympathize with an outcast. Or they simply don’t know how to (or don’t care to) connect with something or someone that is unfamiliar. It feels uncomfortable. Watch the 7 minute video on the original blog post called San Quentin’s Giants.  Students will be able to use their familiarity with baseball to bridge a connection to some of the more heavy themes in this documentary such as incarceration in America, self image, race relations, or stereotypes. Valuable, valuable gem indeed.

4) The lesson plans are already there for you!

Sort of. While I almost always adapt the lesson plans and materials provided from any resource, the building blocks of the lesson are already provided here. Have you ever used The Learning Network created by the New York Times? They have an incredible inventory of articles with accompanying discussion questions and activities. Today I learned that they offer the equivalent in video through this Film Club.  I’m so happy! If you’re looking for something worthwhile but already partially constructed for you, then this is the place to look. It does not feel like a scripted curriculum the way that some options do. It’s just the building blocks for you to use and adapt to fit the needs of your students.

5) The Film Club meets and produces a new addition to their inventory every other week during the school year.

Hooray! Constantly evolving content to choose from! I love that this is fresh and remains relevant. It allows us to build on the activity so easily. For example, I could pair their most recent film Turning Oil Rigs into Reefs with all sorts of other texts. Current events from the newspaper would be perfect. Or I could pre-select a few photos that connect with the film on some thematic level and encourage students to make inferences to reveal the theme I intended. The interesting part here is that students may discover themes that I hadn’t intended – isn’t this a great moment to teach students about perspective? Or for younger students, I could use that natural moment to teach them that background knowledge plus the text evidence is what creates an inference. If we all have different background knowledge, we could easily come up with different inferences (even when we’re looking at the same evidence). This means we might all come up with different themes to connect the selected texts! It’s so much easier to have a lesson like this with multimedia texts rather than just words on a page.


Allison is currently serving as the Director of Special Activities for PCTELA. She enjoyed almost 10 years as a middle level educator before making the switch to high school this past year. As a Reading Specialist, she works with small groups of students every day and helps them to build a solid foundation for using text to learn.

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Last year, one student was struggling to formulate her topic for her final synthesis essay (I ask students to use at least 4 texts and combine them in a larger argument about some element of being human).  She stayed after class one day and I asked her if she could somehow graph out what she wanted to say about making decisions.  We talked for almost an hour, and she drew a number of different iterations of a graph.  This was one of the final ones she designed, and it ended up in her paper:

decisions graph

What adding this graph allowed her to do was then explain how it applied to each of the four books she analyzed.  It was a remarkable moment for both of us, as we both understood how the image allow her thinking to crystalize.

This year, as students began to draft synthesis essays, after they all thought they had solid topics, I asked them to draw an image that depicted their topic. It could be a spectrum, a graph, or some other kind of image.  For a few students, it served the same purpose as my student last year: it helped crystalize their thinking.

One student realized the more characters desired something, the more insane they seemed:

Another student made a gradient for what she termed “consumption,” and whether there was an obsessive element to the consumption. This helped her decide where to place different characters (like Hamlet, Ahab, or Frankenstein)  and allowed her to craft her essay around this concept. 

Another student used a graph to show the different kinds of archetypal figures he saw in the texts we read.

While not every student used these graphs in their papers, at least 20% of them did find them useful enough to incorporate into their final paper. As a reader, I also found them useful to refer to as I read their arguments.

So the next time you ask students to write an essay, consider having them translate it into an image. The act might help clarify their thinking and improve their writing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

As the year winds down and we move in to summer, I know many of you will spend time building and enhancing your curriculum.  Here are 5 ideas for teaching Shakespeare that you might consider implementing next year.  The summer will give you time to seek out and read some of these books.

1. Take a page from Gary Soto’s book and have students write an original poem based on one line from a play.


2. Have students connect the play to a modern text by taking a quote and tying it to a modern film/show where the situation is similar, and then explain the similarity.

3. Ask students to imagine a modern scenario where the same situation could feasibly occur, much like Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, based on the Tempest, or Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler, based on The Taming of the Shrew.

4. Have students annotate a scene (or a portion of a scene) in terms of direction: blocking, lighting, set, costuming, inflection.

5. Ask students to rewrite a portion of a monologue/soliloquy but change or modernize the topic. The act of rewriting can be a powerful way to understand blank verse and iambic pentameter.


Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year! NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference  this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.


Written by: Dr. Jolene Borgese

Role: Mentor of Daecia Smith throughout the grant period

I am uncomfortable writing or talking about the different shades of skin color. But the young African American girls in Daecia Smith’s book club were not. Daecia is a senior at Temple University, majoring in secondary English. She is student teaching this semester at a high academic performing school in Philadelphia.

The afternoon I joined them at the elementary school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for their book club I asked them two open ended questions: “How’s the club going?” and “How do you like the book you’re reading?” Like a fire storm, these 11 year old girls all spoke to me at once – eager to tell me about the book and the characters. Aiming to be the one I heard, their responses became louder and more animated but they were all talking about the bullying going on in the novel, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, and how it was all the about the lighter skinned character versus the darker skinned character. Without any inhibitions or fear of being politically incorrect they spoke to me candidly about the shades of being Black.

The teacher in me wanted to connect to these free spirited little girls so I shared with them what I knew about shades of skin color. I recounted quickly as to not lose their interest – “I am of Italian American descent and Italian skin color depends on what part of Italy you are from. The southern part of Italy is very close to Africa so if you are Sicilian- which I am part of – your skin is darker. Some of my sisters are very fair but my father, brother and I have darker skin.” They weren’t interested or cared. I got it. I was this white lady talking about getting a tan. I never got the chance to tell them that my mother sometimes wore pantyhose to the beach because her legs were so white.

The girls spoke with such confidence about shades of color that I asked them if they knew of this happening to people they knew or even themselves. With all of their heads nodding “yes” I realized why this was so important to them. Daecia gathered their attention back when she asked them to start reading. Having more girls than books they happily shared books and helped whoever was reading with words they couldn’t pronounce. They all followed along and listened carefully as their club members read.

Daecia would stop and asked them questions periodically about what they were reading. It seemed more like a conversation than comprehension questions because this was obviously important to them. They read for about 30 minutes never inattentive or disengaged. Reading the right book – the book that means something to the reader- was the key. It was obvious they saw themselves in the characters they were reading about.

At the end of the hour they cleaned up their snack wrappers (Daecia had provided snacks for them), collected the novels and journals. The girls put on their coats and headed out the classroom door. One little girl stopped and turned to Daecia and asked, “What are we reading next?” Daecia was exhausted from student teaching all day, and the extra hour she put in with these little girls, but she still managed a smile.

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Recipient Reflection

PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year! NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference  this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.


Written by: Daecia Smith

Role: Grant Recipient

During my time at the elementary school with my book club of six fifth grade girls, I had many memorable experiences. One Wednesday afternoon, before we started the novel The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, I decided to do an activity to introduce the book. I picked three videos to show to my students. One video was by Dove and embraced curly hair texture. The second video was a poem entitled “The Average Black Girl” performed by Ernestine Johnson on the Arsenio Hall show. The last video was of a three-year-old girl reciting the poem “Hey, Black Child!”

I chose videos pertaining to self-identity and struggle in the black community because those are the main themes in the novel. The front cover of the book is the face of a dark skinned African American girl, Maleeka Madison, the protagonist of the story. I was a bit apprehensive about bringing up this sensitive topic, but I deemed it necessary in order for them to fully comprehend the message of the book. Also, I thought this conversation was pertinent because it is very relevant to their lives as African American females growing up in Philadelphia.

They appreciated the videos in book club, but they were more interested in why I chose to show them. I explained my reasoning and then the girls started to talk about how hard it is being females of color in Philadelphia. They added that they do not like White people because they always mistreat them and because they are all racist. I tried to explain to them that their feelings of alienation are justified and that we will discuss this later on. I added that despite their instances with certain White people, their actions do not speak for the entire race. I asked them if they hate when other races make assumptions about Black people. For example, I asked “Do you hate it when other races say that all Black people are loud, ghetto, ignorant and eat pig feet?” First, they exclaimed their distaste and hatred for pig feet and then they agreed that they don’t like it when assumptions are made with regard to the entire Black community. I asked if they can see how other White people would feel since they made assumptions about their race based off a few bad experiences with specific people. They stared at me in dismay and I knew that based off of their hesitation, we were going to have an interesting time together.

My one goal while spending time with my students was to open their minds to the world around them. The broadening and expansion of their minds included the knowledge and accessibility to neighboring cities as well as acceptance, tolerance and conversation about race, gender and education. The novel The Skin I’m In helped me achieve my goal to have active and fruitful discussion about the world around my students. I wanted to provide them with instructions and advice as how to navigate their futures and the struggles that are uniquely theirs as young, black girls.

751635.jpg

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Recipient Reflection