Tag Archives: high school students

Hack the Olympic Creed with your Students: The Art of the Cut-Up

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ski jump

If you are like me, you’re always looking for a way to bring the here and now into your class in as creative and interesting a way as possible. So what to do with the Olympics? Here’s a great writing (and reading) experiment that will have your students looking at the Olympics and the meaning behind the Olympics in a whole new way.

Take the Olympic Creed:

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.

Paste it into a document and blow the creed up to 24 or so point so that you can really see it. Something like this:

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.

Make enough copies of the creed so that a group of four or so in your class can use it: e.g. 24 in a class, make six copies. Cut out each word so that it is independent. Put the individually cut up words for one creed into each envelop.

The next day, get your students into the requisite number of groups, and hand out the envelope to each group. Tell them that the challenge is to use these words, and only these words, to create a poem. The only other constraint is that they must use all of the words. The way that they construct the poem is completely up to them. They may add punctuation.

IMPORTANT: when describing the challenge, do not show them the original Olympic Creed! If you do that, it will suck all of the creativity out of this experiment. Another important point: the goal is not for the groups to try to recreate the creed in the exact original wording. Instead, the students are using the words like material, like paint, to create a whole new work of art, a la Gertrude Stein.Gertrude Stein-996e11046cc60620a5e89c3a4491d5222249be35-s6-c30

Depending on the age of your students, give them 15, maybe twenty minutes, to mess around with the words and to create the poem. When I tried this, I took a good half an hour, so this could be a good use of an entire period. The amount of time that you dedicate to it will determine the kinds of poems that are produced. Less time: probably more abstract. More time: probably more narrative in form. Any time spent is well worth it. This experiment encourages your students to think and act strategically, carefully reading the words and critically thinking about the meaning that they want to create by connecting the words to each other. They will also come to appreciate how many different ways they can use the same word, particularly prepositions, articles, and conjunctions. Not only that, they are also honing their skills of interpretation and persuasiveness by working as a group to make their poem happen. While your students are creating their poems out of the found material, sit back and enjoy listening to and watching the divergent and convergent thinking that goes on.

Once the students feel that they have their poems constructed, have them write them down on pieces of paper, exactly the way that they look on the tables. While they are doing that, you might want to go around and take pictures of each poem in its cut-up form. There is something aesthetically interesting in the way in which the cut out words look pieced together on the table. Give them a chance to read it one more time out loud to their group so that they have it in their head.

Then, reveal the original creed on your smart board or written on the blackboard or handed out on a different sheet of paper to each group. Tell them that this is the original Olympic Creed. You can even use the moment to share the story with them about how the Olympic Creed came to be:

coubertinPierre de Coubertin got the idea for the phrase adopted as the Olympic Creed from a speech given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games.

Not much of a story, but it is always good to know where something comes from.

The comparing of the original Olympic Creed and the cut-up versions that the students do should create a very interesting conversation. What is the difference between the original and the new versions? What do we notice about the way the original creed is written? What new meanings are created in the new versions? What do we see differently in the original creed because of our cut-ups? Which do we like better? You get the idea.

For the coup de grace, Have the students type up their cut-up versions with a title and the names of all who contributed to it, and then create a gallery in your room or in the hallway outside of your room where you display the original Olympic Creed and then all of your students’ versions to invite folks to see the Olympics in a new and refreshing way.

This writing and reading experiment is beautifully simple and wonderfully deep in terms of the literacy skill development and learning that happens. As noted above, through this writing game, similar to Burrough’s cut-ups or Tristan Tzara’s Tzara’s Hat, your students will scrutinize individual words, interpret word pairings for below surface meanings, read what they put together many many times, work to convince others that their construction is the best, surprise themselves with what happens when seemingly disparate words are connected, and be ruthless in their editing. When they see the original creed, they will then be encouraged to do some pretty sophisticated comparing and contrasting. They will revisit their own piece and evaluate it for its effectiveness, its uniqueness. They will also come to appreciate how words and phrases can have multiple meanings, depending on how you use them.burroughs&Typewriter(1)

If you give this a shot with your students, please leave a comment and let me know how it goes. Better yet, leave me a comment and share one of the poems created. I’d love to see it. Here is a version I came up with:

But well-conquered Olympic struggle?

Not important

But is the most essential triumph fought to win?

Not important

Take the life games

as not just to have

the most in the thing

But have

the thing in part is

the is

Twenty Signs of a Real World Classroom or How to Avoid Schoolification

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bored student

One thing I love about teaching – good teaching – is that it is inherently subversive. Good teaching challenges the status quo because deep learning is subversive as well. Developing enduring understandings never happens by the book. It happens in times of real world engagement, when what we think we know is challenged, and we need to adapt and modify in order to make something significant happen in that real world. Too often we lose sight of this in schools. Instead, we spend all of our mental and physical energy designing teaching and learning to be the exact opposite of subversive. We work, against our better judgement, to sanitize the learning, to make it predictable and safe. And we have many forces at work encouraging us, even supporting us, to do this: scripted curricula, overuse of standardized tests to measure learning, large class sizes, etc. In this kind of environment, it is easy to schoolify learning. Schoolification is when we take a real-world practice (e.g. writing, geometry, physics), and we remove any of the real-worldness out of it to manage it as a subject instead of treating it as a way of being in the world. Ironically, what we need to be doing in schools is designing learning to not look, sound, or feel anything like what students and teachers commonly define school as and instead create learning opportunities that more closely reflect how we develop understandings and make things happen in the world. We need to do this not only because it is the way we truly learn but also because schoolification has a tendency to encourage several nasty habits: a fixed-mindset and co-dependent behavior when it comes to learning, and lack of resiliency when it comes to challenges. So, in an effort to support learning environments that foster creative, risk-taking, and persistent teachers and students, here is a list of  20 signs that you are designing a real world classroom.

  1. The culmination of schoolwork is designed to be put back out in the world in a meaningful way through performance, publication, community engagement, etc.

  2. Textbooks are viewed as one of many resources students can use to develop purposeful understandings

  3. Teachers use the word “uncover” when talking about teaching and learning

  4. The majority of the work is appropriative, meaning students are being “specialists” in the field – scientists, mathematicians, writers, historians, artists, linguists – rather than students of subjects

  5. Teachers are positioned as these specialists too, living the life of a scientist, for example

  6. Lessons and/or units are contiguous. They are connected and build on one another. Students are expected to be able to bridge skills and concepts from one unit to another

  7. Students want to keep their work from past units because it is useful in the present

  8. Teachers and students find multiple uses for work

  9. The teacher finds him or herself grading different pieces of work from all of his or her students in a given unit, making it a learning opportunity for the teacher

  10. Difficulty, challenge, and obstacles are purposefully constructed and celebrated because teachers and students know that life is a series of difficulties, challenges, and obstacles

  11. These difficulties, challenges, and obstacles are solved collaboratively

  12. Teachers and students work together. The teacher is doing the same work as the students because the project is genuinely interesting to him/her as well

  13. The teacher is a learner and the students are teachers

  14. The teacher is often heard saying things like “I’m not sure. What do you think?” or “How could we figure that out?” or “What kind of work could you do that would help you figure out how to answer that?”

  15. Questions are celebrated and answered by the group

  16. Teacher provides scaffolding for projects, coaching students along the way, creating avenues for students to share progress, ask questions, discuss models, and collaboratively solve problems

  17. Evaluation is constructive and focuses on quality criteria – what does strong work look like in this vein?

  18. Teachers and students see real world performances as a source for evaluative feedback and create opportunities for purposeful reflection on these events

  19. Teachers and students are constantly looking at models of the kind of work that they want to do

  20. The germ for the idea for a unit comes from a challenge or a project that the class wants to take on. It is borne out of the heads of the teacher and/or students

The Challenges of Group Work

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Earlier today I received this email from a fantastic high school teacher regarding the challenges of group work in her class:

Before I respond to this young lady, I wondered what your educational philosophy on this sort of issue might be. I’m tempted to let them find their own solutions to this open-ended problem of planning and filming the Brave New World propaganda project commercial but if her group members are being that unhelpful and from what I can see, they are… then it really isn’t fair to her to be stuck in the middle between my high expectations and her group members’ lack of effort. Continue reading