Back in the swing

It has been a year since I have posted to this blog. My only excuse: I am moonlighting with another blog. Really it is just my food blog, but it has consumed me- punny right? So much has happened, but I’ll start with something cool I am trying out in 9th grade. I love, love book trailers. Fun to make, fun to watch. I wanted something along those lines for our poetry unit so, I started looking into illuminated texts. A Way to Teach is the ultimate source but you need points to view anything and I don’t have any. So I scoured Youtube for examples and came across “Cat in the Rain,” a short story illuminated text done by Jenny Lee. Follow the hyperlinked text to view it. So cool. The text movement mirrored that actions the words implied, the colors changed with the gender and importance of the subject, the music followed the plot of the story- it was really well done. I knew I was on to something my students would like.

One of my cornerstones in teaching is that I never ask the kids to do something I would not do myself. Following this has helped me anticipate problems with my lesson ideas, as well as figure out all of the steps necessary for student success. At first blush, I thought illuminating a poem would be easy, just a matter of choosing colors, motions and music thoughtfully. That was a miscalculation! Everything I had read said use Powerpoint and play with the animations. Powerpoint? I thought that had gone by the wayside when Animoto and Prezi stepped onto the scene. No matter, I knew Powerpoint.

Choosing the poem was easy. “Do Not Go Gentle into that Goodnight” has been a favorite of mine forever. I even named my firstborn after the poet; I was so enamored of Mr. Thomas. I opened up powerpoint and typed the poem into a slide. Next I went to the “Animations” tab and clicked on “custom animations.” It was the mother load! Who knew lil’ ol’ Powerpoint was holding such treasures? I went ahead and highlighted some text and then chose an animation and speed. “I got this” I was thinking to myself. Overly confident, I hit play to marvel at my feat except, what I wanted did not occur. All of the text of the poem was doing the animation I selected. Hey what gives? For the next 30 minutes, I tried everything. I hunted around that program in all of the tabs to no avail. I was sorely disappointed because I really wanted to let my kids have a hand at this, but if I could not explain and model it, how could I expect them to do it?

I thought about my dilemma that night and decided to show the kids the example “Cat in the Rain” and talk to them about my issue and see if any of them would have an answer. I realized a long time ago that even though I try to always be abreast of new tech applications that work in Language Arts classrooms, my students often are on the bleeding edge of everything. Sometimes you can’t be the expert, but someone else can and you can learn something new. Back to the classroom, I showed the students the video and talked about what I envisioned and asked them if anybody knew how to fix my problem and just animate the pieces I wanted. One little hand popped up.

“Melody, do you have a solution to my problem?” I asked.

“Maybe, can I come up and try something?” she asked.

“Please do.”

I gave her control of the Activboard and she started cutting text and inserting text boxes and more slides and then the magic happened. She went to each new text box and animated the words the way she thought they should be. Sometimes there was only one word in a text box, but she diligently worked at it until she had the first stanza. The screen looked crazy with all of these motion paths attached to words. In places you could not even read the text because there were so many layers.

“Okay, let’s see if this worked.” Melody said to me a little shyly.

As she hit play, the screen began to show the text moving and changing, swaying and bending, shrinking and enlarging, pinging off the screen and melting into the screen. She had figured it out and done a really nice job with her choices for the first stanza. Each decision she had made was thoughtful and the story had begun to blossom under her choices. Everybody in the room applauded as Melody went back to her seat and the students got down to picking their own poems and illuminating them. The sun came out and angels started singing- just kidding- maybe….

If I had not asked my students to show me what they know, I never would have learned that each animation is tied to a single text box. I might have picked it up reading something years down the road, but it would not have helped me this week. What I saw because of Melody’s guidance, was some pretty amazing work. My students took to the assignment quickly and were actively engaged the entire class period- every teacher’s dream.

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