All three of my Scholastic titles are on sale this week at Scholastic Teacher Express for just $5 each. That’s 60% off. Pick up Super Sentences and Perfect Paragraphs, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, and Symbols of America for just $5 each. Scholastic’s search engine is cumbersome, so be sure to follow the direct links by clicking on the title in this post. Thanks!
According to an annual survey performed by Met Life, job satisfaction among teachers is just 39%–the lowest level in twenty-five years. It means six out of ten teachers are dissatisfied with their jobs. Six out of ten would quit and do something else if they could. Says one expert, it’s “a perfect storm of Common Core implementation, new teacher evaluations, and state accountability systems.” Another says teachers “are operating in an environment of public discourse that focuses on blame.”
But what I want to focus on is the 39%. Despite merit pay schemes, evaluations based on student test scores, and yet another massive (and some say unnecessary) school reform, 39% of us say we still like our jobs. Why?
There are, of course, a gillion factors, but I know one thing that helps keep me happy is the inclusion of Read Aloud Plays in my instruction. Here’s why:
Read Aloud Plays are fun. Where else can kids meet standards by popping out of a crate, holding aloft a “still-pulsing heart,” or pouring confetti over someone’s head? Crazy, inspiring, and magical things happen when working with plays.
Read Aloud Plays are easy to use. Simply select the plays you want, assign parts, and start meeting around your kidney-shaped table two or three times a week. Because there’s no need to spend hours wading through a complicated teacher’s edition, read aloud plays makes my job do-able.
Read Aloud Plays can be integrated with other subjects. Plays such as Sitting Down for Dr. King get kids actively engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. Fly Me to the Moon takes them to space. And The Secret Soldier (which appears in the March 11 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine) puts them on Bunker Hill. The wide variety of plays available makes teaching other subjects more interesting.
Read Aloud Plays create a tangible product. I’ve found no end of pleasure in recording movies and podcasts to post on our classroom webpage—and the kids have found no end of pleasure in sharing them with family and friends.
Read Aloud Plays meet the Standards. The CCSs justify using Read Aloud Plays by making reference to drama as a required literary form. In fact, “drama” appears 47 times in the Standards, giving me license to toss aside the textbook.
Read Aloud Plays make teaching a little less tough. For me, perhaps it’s just enough to keep me in that 39%.
My students are all jazzed about the play Rikki Tikki Tavi, which they just recorded for use as a podcast. If you’re a fan of using Read Aloud Plays but haven’t yet experimented with podcasting, I encourage you to give it a try. Hear our sample by clicking on the original cover from Kipling’s The Jungle Book, or better yet, read on for two minutes and find out how your students can make their own.
Using Read Aloud Plays in the classroom has numerous academic benefits. One, the Common Core State Standards put a great deal of emphasis on using drama to teach reading. In fact, the word drama appears 47 times in the standards. Two, kids love reading and enacting plays, meaning their engagement is heightened. Three, plays rapidly improve fluency. Using Read Aloud Plays accomplishes this because most students are willing to read and re-read the same script repetitively (the same way they probably read picture books when they were tots). One additional key to success, I think, is to offer authentic and varying ways to present your plays.
Don’t get me wrong. Divvying up parts and reading a play just once has its merits. In fact, my class will be doing just that for President’s Day. Using three plays from my book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, we’ll be touching on the significance of the holiday without devoting an excess of class time. But in this case the emphasis is on teaching a specific history lesson rather than improving reading skills.
To really build fluency (and comprehension), I want my kids working with a given script for three to four weeks. They meet with me in “play groups” for “cast table readings” three times over the first week. Each play group is about a third of the class. Once they’ve demonstrated command of their given script, we move on to rehearsals. After two or three weeks of rehearsing (roughly three times a week for 20 minutes a pop), we present our plays in a few basic ways: Simple classroom staging, school stage production, full-blown musical, movie making, or podcasting.
Podcasting may initially seem daunting, but will become fairly simple with a bit of practice. You’ll need a laptop pre-loaded with Audacity software (a free download), a decent omnidirectional mic such as Samson’s Go Mic, and a quiet room. Students simply read their lines. You can stop between each scene, re-do scenes as necessary, edit out some of the stumbles, stutters, and pauses, and even alter the pitch. Editing may consume a couple hours of your weekend, but once you’ve done so you can export your play as an mp3 file. Share it with you class as you would any other digital sound clip. In my classroom, we post them on our webpage.
Visit my classroom website at dailyplatypus.com to see and hear samples of podcasts, play productions, and our Christmas Carol movie. If you’re working on plays for African-American History Month, it’s not too late to record your students for all posterity via a podcast.
After announcing the approach of my first grandchild via Facebook, I received a message from a former student thanking me for the year she spent in my class a decade ago. “Samantha” told me how the only happy moments of her childhood were in my classroom. Although I’m proud that I was able to provide her with a safe, nurturing environment, I’m saddened I hadn’t done more to make her life less chaotic. Whatever the case, it has prompted me to ponder what makes a classroom “happy.” Certainly there’s the nurturing that all good teachers provide their kids, loving them despite their flaws, considering their interests when writing lesson plans, being accessible, consistent, and safely predictable. But in my classroom I’ve also concluded that Read Aloud Plays has something to do with it. I know this because my students always seem to be happiest when we’re working on a play, and former students always seem to mention a play when reflecting on their time with me.
My current students recently performed my adaption of Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark.” It appears in the Jan. 14th issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. Like nearly all the plays I craft for Scholastic, my students performed it in advance of publication. Judging by the always-awesome Scope cover, you wouldn’t think it a “happy” play at all, but it had the kids giggling and gaffawing like mad. It’s simultaneously romantic and ghoulish, giving them the chance to express a wide variety of emotions. Why, how often does your average fifth grade boy get to get on one knee and profess his love to a classmate? How often does your second-language learner get to stuff a pillow in his shirt and pretend to be a hunchback Boris Karloff?
Textbooks, standardized tests, and leveled readers may perhaps be worthwhile academic tools, but they’re not in themselves able to contribute toward that happy place Samantha remembers. If you haven’t tried using Read Aloud Plays, now is a great time to start. Although The Birthmark won’t be available on my website until next year, I have dozens of others–all written with the student in mind. Black History Month titles such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate, Sitting Down for Dr. King, and How Jackie Changed the World are consistently ranked as favorites with the kids. Give ‘em a try and help create that happy place students will write to you about.
Merry Christmas! For a look at how much can be done with read aloud plays, a Flip camera, and simple Movie Maker software, check out this sixteen minute movie based on A Christmas Carol. The script comes from the book, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, which casts Scrooge as a female (Eleanora Scrooge). The actors include all thirty kids from my 5th grade classroom in southern Oregon. It’s just one more example of the great things that can be accomplished with read aloud plays. Enjoy!
Okay, so maybe not an actual diamond necklace, but you can get a free electronic version of my play adaption, The Necklace, by clicking here. It’s Guy de Maupassant’s classic short story about a discontented housewife in turn-of-the-Century France. Although she has every reason to be happy, she makes a mess of her life when she loses a borrowed diamond necklace, which turns out to be false. It’s a compelling story, and a fun one for kids in the intermediate and middle school grades to enact. Although it isn’t implicitly Christmas oriented, it always seems appropriate for the holidays. The free play is courtesy of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. If you’re a middle school teacher and haven’t yet discovered Scope, check it our by clicking here. It’s a marvelous language arts classroom magazine with great stories and activities, stunning graphics, and a massive supply of supplemental online resources–well worth the price of a classroom subscription. And if you’re an elementary teacher, be sure to visit Scope’s sister publication, the immensely popular Storyworks classroom magazine. Like Scope, it puts your average language arts textbook to shame.
My new play based on the life of Revolutionary War soldier Deborah Sampson appears in the November/December 2012 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine. History recognizes Sampson as being the first female to serve the country as a soldier–though she had to disguise herself as a man and go by the name Robert Shurtliff to make it possible. “The Secret Soldier” is a true story, but Deborah’s life is far from being easy to map. Regardless of which account one believes, there’s no doubting Deborah served in the U.S. military, was wounded, and eventually received a military pension. To find out more about Deborah, visit archive.org or DistinguisedWomen.com. You can also get a sneak peak of the Storyworks play by clicking here. Follow instructions on the website to become a subscriber, which gets you access to a wide variety of accompanying comprehension activities and Smartboard lessons.
Who’s this hideous-looking dude? It’s Polyphemus, the cannibalistic antagonist from my play based on the 9th Book of The Odyssey. It appears in the September 3rd, 2012, edition of Scholastic’s Scope Magazine. The riveting illustrations by Gary Hanna will have students mesmerized and the crazy script will have kids howling both on and off the stage. Scope is aimed at 6th-8th grade students. To explore the issue further, or to sign-up for a free trial subscription, just click on Cyclops’ one glorious eye! The Cyclops play is one of more than a dozen classic tales I have adapted for Scholastic’s various divisions. My book, Read-Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories includes adaptations of stories by O. Henry, Gogol, Irving, Kipling, and many others.
Give your history lessons a boost with this collection of ten “patriotic” plays celebrating important events, symbols, and holidays in American History. Students debate the origins of the American flag in Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction, learn why the Liberty Bell was hidden in a church basement in A Bell for the Statehouse, and discover the tribulations of the presidency in A President’s Day Dream. Includes plays about Mount Rushmore, the White House, MLK’s childhood, the Star-Spangled Banner, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and more. Just click on the cover for more information or to purchase and immediately download. It’s currently available in e-book form from Scholastic Teacher Express for just $1! One dollar gets you ten patriotic plays for the classroom! Still not convinced? Listen to this student-created podcast of Argument at Mount Rushmore.
My play adaptation based on W.W. Jacobs’ classic short story, The Monkey’s Paw, appears in the April 23rd issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. Jacobs’ story works is based on the premise, “Be careful what you wish for.” When a family acquires a magical monkey’s paw from mystical India, they take their first wish lightly, leading to disastrous results. To get it, become a Scope subscriber by clicking here. It comes with a wide variety of support material including comprehension exercises and a quiz. Scope is aimed at the middle school level. The Monkey’s Paw is one of dozens of classics I’ve adapted for Scholastic. His book, Read-Aloud Plays: Classic Shorts Stories includes works by Gogol, Poe, Kipling, and others, including Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Gift of the Magi. It’s available at Scholastic.com, Amazon.com, and numerous other book sellers.