Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seemed Like A Good Idea to Me

My 8th grade students are writing children's books to demonstrate the concepts about light/color that they learned in science class. We were doing a little bit of plot brainstorming the other day, and it became clear that without some intervention, I was setting myself up to read 40 similar (and painful) children's books:

Fluffy, the bunny, wants to know how rainbows are made but he doesn't know, so he sets out to find someone to tell him.

Johnny and Daisy want to know why we see color, but they don't know, so they ask the teacher and she takes them on an adventure to find out. 

Bob, the student, didn't know how prisms worked so he asked someone who did and he found out.

I imagined sitting in Starbucks, the stack of completed children's books piled on the table, and while grading the 28th one, standing up on my chair and yelling "I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!" I imagined tearing the book apart with my teeth and throwing bits of it up into the air, where it takes a gravitational turn down onto the heads of those waiting for their lattes. I imagined using my foot to kick the rest of the books from the table's surface and letting out a terrifying "HEEEEE-YOP!" while doing so. I imagined my hair, sticking to the sides of my face with sweat- the sweat formed from grading so many bad pieces of writing, and I imagined my red grading pen being crushed in my uber-powerful teacher hand, the ink dripping down my forearm.

I imagined the shock on the faces of both baristas and coffeenistas and I imagined making it all come clear for them by yelling, "THESE BOOKS! THEY'RE ALL THE SAME!" I imagined shocked faces turning to faces of concern and empathy as the baristas and coffeenistas understand how terrible it must be to grade the same horrible plot over and over and over. And over.

I snapped out of it and suggested we brainstorm a little more, pointing out that each proposed story was basically like the one before it. And the first one wasn't even that good. Boy doesn't get concept so boy finds someone to explain it.

Students were nodding their heads in agreement, but seemed unsure of how to come up with anything else. "Tell your brain the concept and then see what it does with it," I explain.  "Don't work so hard at it. Just toss it up there and see what happens."

Students started looking upwards, as if trying to see into their brains. The brains appeared to be momentarily inactive.

"Ooh! Ooh! I've got it!" I shouted. "Feel free to steal this one. Okay. So two teenagers are on a date at a drive-in. And the movie is black and white, but has a color component. You know, like "Pleasantville" or "The Wizard of Oz."

"We saw that last year!" a kid yelled.

"Right. Wait for it...So, they're watching the movie and the guy goes' 'Kind of cool how it went from being in black and white to color.' And the girl goes, 'What do you mean?' And he says, "You know, color! When it turned from black and white to all of those colors.' And the girl is all confused and doesn't know what he's talking about."

"Okay," one student said. "I'll use that!"

"No, wait. It gets better!" I explained. "So they get in a big fight about it and the guy ends up getting out of the car and slamming the door and leaving her. And when he does, he says something to the effect of 'I didn't want to go on a date with you anyway! You're a real dog!'"

"Ooooh!" (This was said collectively. In the "you just called to the office" kind of "oooooh!")

"No. Here's the good part," I continued. "After the guy is gone the girl reaches up and, like, pulls her face off. She just reaches under her chin and peels away her face and under it, she's a DOG! An actual DOG! Which makes sense! Because dogs only see in black and white!"

(Silence in the room.)


(Stunned faces.)

"Anyone want to use that story idea? It's a good one, right?"

(More silence.)

Then finally:
"Um. Ms. Maret? That's kind do you come up with these ideas? That's...."
"Disturbing!" a kid shouted out.
"Just...weird," another kid muttered.
"Really, Maret? Really? She peels her face off? Seriously."
"Yeah, Maret. That'"

"Too much?" I ask. "Okay. Oh! I have another one! How about this: There's this weird substitute teacher guy who is obsessed with plants. Like, plants are his only friends. He's named them all and talks to them all each morning and even dresses some of them."

"Dresses them?"

"Wait for it...So, he gets called in to teach a science class and he's so nervous about it that he brings one of this plants with him. A little potted one. Named Lucy."

"Okaaaay," they mumble, skeptically.

"So, he gets to class and sees in the sub plans that he's supposed to teach about light and energy and stuff- you know, you guys studied that. But he doesn't know anything about it and the kids are filing into the classroom and he's really starting to freak out."

"We had a sub like that once!" a kid exclaims.

"Okay. That's neither here nor there. But, anyway, the kids are all seated now because the bell rang, and with a very nervous and shaky voice he says to the class, " will be learning....about..." and he hears a tiny voice shout out 'photosynthesis!' It's the plant! Lucy! It talks but only he can hear it! And because she gets her energy from the sun she's able to explain it so the guy is able to teach the lesson."

"Um," a kid says.

"Right? The PLANT talks!" I say, enthusiastically.

"Well, it's better than the girl who peels her face off, but it's still kind of...weird."

"Seriously, Maret. I mean....seriously."

Huh. Seemed like good ideas to me.

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