Saturday, March 14, 2015

I Would Like to Thank the Academy: Building Classroom Community, Hollywood style!

Two days ago, my beginning Speech class did an assignment entitled the “Podium Awards.”  It started with interviewing a partner with 10 questions ranging from silly (What is your most embarrassing moment?  What’s your favorite food and how much can you eat of it?) to more poignant (What are you most proud of?  What do you love or hate about yourself?)

The interview was my favorite part.  Some kids lit up because they are being asked about themselves.  Quieter students became animated, using hand gestures as they told stories about peeing on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the Tulare County Fair or visiting their dad in Corcoran Prison for the first time.  Others, my wild ones, became more introverted, feeling awkward because they had the full attention of one person rather than the safe “distance” of the entire class. The eye contact from partners “freaked some of them out” and they turned their desk tilty, so they didn’t need to look right at them.  Some students asked follow-up questions ala Diane Sawyer while others acted like they were in a speed reading competition.  (Pssst...I’m collecting “data” right now.  Can you feel it?)

I know it’s already March (How?!?) and I’ve been hanging out with these crazies since August, but I was shocked how much more I learned about them as I roamed the room during the 20 minute interview process.  20 minutes.  In 20 minutes, I learned that Luis takes care of his five younger siblings after school every day and doesn’t want them “to turn out like him.”  I learned that Ashley’s mom is on her 3rd marriage and she hates the guy.  I learned that Juan got accepted to UC Irvine and his parents don’t want him to go because it’s too far from Tulare while Simone is going straight to Milan, our local beauty college, and can’t wait to get the *&^% out of high school.  

20 minutes.  Now, I have two hour blocks, which is a luxury (and torture some days!), so my wiggle room for community building exercises is rich - and a must.  Two hours of pure academics for a teenage head...can you imagine?  In 20 minutes, I learned a valuable new layer of “stuff” about my students.  Stuff I can pull out whenever homework isn’t turned in, tears are shed, or chronic absences emerge.  When I am able to ask about their baby sister or tell them how clean of a city Irvine is, I have my claws in a little deeper.  The next time they roll over in bed and turn off the alarm on the iphone, they may think about those conversations and groan because if they miss my class, I’m going to be all over them.  My little face waiting with questions about little sis, the Corcoran prison, or pee on the Tilt-a-whirl.  I know them a little bit more and that will make it just a hair harder to ditch my class.  They still will ditch - don’t get me wrong - I hold no super powers.  But, it will make it harder, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is my true job.  

The awards took place next.  Once the interview was over, they had to hide from their partner and create a secret award based on information gathered in their interview.  The awards ranged from “Best Taco Eater” to “Most Caring” to “Best OverComer of Crappy Life.”  One stoic basketball player found herself in tears accepting her silly award; she didn’t know where they came caught her off guard and the class melted.  It was one of “those moments.”  

A bonus part of the day is when a quiet underclassman volunteered to be on sound effect duty.  He plugged his phone into the speaker and played applause, a laugh track, and bad acceptance music as kids walked up to the podium (Seriously, how does a 16 year old know Wham’s “Careless Whisper”?  I was cracking up!)

It was no-brainer assignment for Speech class, but couldn’t this interview/awards process be adapted for any subject simply to break up the year.  One of those days where you have a football rally or Spring Break starts on Monday, or you have just been testing for two weeks, and everyone is kind of “over it.”  Think about learn more about them than they even learn about each other.  So, who does the award really go to?

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