Stark Talking

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Nerds love to debate superhero superlatives. Who’s the strongest? Who’s the fastest? Who’s the most powerful?

Thanks to @reddit_user_1948, now we know which Avenger is the most talkative:

Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark.

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These results are based on comparing dialogue from the six original Avengers in the Marvel movies, summarized below:

spoken lines chart

 

Dialogue in the classroom is another topic of extensive study. In such research, teachers are like Tony Stark in that they dominate the spoken word.

One of the most well-known researchers in classroom interactions is Ned Flanders.

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(No, not this Ned Flanders.)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Flanders found that 70% of classroom time is talk, and 70% of this time is teacher talk (1970). He also reported that teachers of high-achieving students talked less (55% of the time) than teachers working with low-achieving students (80% of the time).

No mention of cause and/or effect here, but one could also consider the advice of Harry and Rosemary Wong (First Days of School), who note that those who are “doing” more are the ones who are learning more. In this case, it stands to reason that classrooms with higher rates of student talk (on task) would result in greater student learning.

Instead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, perhaps teachers should look to less vocal heroes like Hawkeye, the archer Avenger. Following Hawkeye’s example, teachers can use fewer words with more precision.

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Like well-aimed arrows, teachers could use purposeful questions and prompts to engage students, assess understanding, and guide discussion.

We’ve discussed questions before (such as here), and unfortunately, good questions don’t always come easily.

Additional research has found that of the 80,000 or so questions teachers ask annually, 80% of them are low level, requiring simple student responses without much thought (Gall, 1984; Watson and Young, 1986).

Like the Flanders research, some of these studies on teacher questioning are several decades old (“classic”). Effective teaching is timeless, however.

Likewise, several classroom habits still linger. For instance, I’ve studied pre-service teachers’ questioning (Bergman, 2013) and found classroom patterns similar to the past. Here’s a sample of those results:

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No matter how much you talk in the classroom, be sure to make it count. Be intentional in your speech with planned questions and responses to engage students in thoughtful learning.

At the same time, be thoughtful in your own teacher talk. Be flexible and nimble, too, ready to “ad lib” when necessary.

After all, one of Tony Stark’s most memorable movie lines was improvised. Maybe you remember this ending to the very first Iron Man film:

 

Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” story of this famous line, which was instrumental in shaping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider how teachers’ words in the classroom can be equally impactful toward student learning and interest.

Adding some humor helps, too.

 

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Word Balloons

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The latest superhero flick is Deadpool, which is making news for its “hard” R-rating for humor and violence.

If you don’t know much about Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth,” here is a fun tutorial courtesy of artist Ty Templeton.

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The movie itself is doing great commercially and critically, even getting approval from Betty White herself.

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I’ll bypass seeing the film in theaters, waiting for a toned down, broadcast-friendly version on TV.  (But from the sound of things, a cleaned-up edited version would last about 15 minutes.)

The “sound of things” is actually the topic of this blog post.  Specifically,

What is the sound of your voice?

We’ve talked before about the importance of what teachers say in the classroom (namely questions).  But it’s also important to consider how you say it.

What’s your tone of voice when you talk in class?  How loud?  How fast?  How much variety?

In comic books, characters speak in “word balloons” (or “speech bubbles”), and it’s fascinating to notice the unique techniques creators use to convey dialogue on the page.

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Just like people, comic book heroes have unique voices, and letterers (the folks who draw word balloons) often use specific styles for particular characters.

For instance, Deadpool always speaks (and thinks) in yellow word balloons.  No one is sure what it’s supposed to sound like, aside from a mix of sarcasm and crazy.

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Take a moment and consider what your words would look like if someone drew balloons around them.

Are you snarky to the point of annoying?  (Do you need to tone it down?)

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Or maybe you’re more robotic, like the android Vision.  (Should you add more emotion?)

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DC/Vertigo’s Sandman hero Dream (a.k.a. Morpheus) talks in wavy inverted speech bubbles.  (Are you putting your students to sleep?)

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Or does your voice reflect the tenor of Ghost Rider, Marvel’s Spirit of Vengeance?  (To quote Educator Harry Wong, remember to stay “calm, real calm.”)

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Some teachers start quiet and docile, not maintaining healthy classroom boundaries.  And then when students get too far out of control, these teachers release a verbal attack like Marvel’s Inhumans hero Black Bolt.  (Deal with the small things sooner, so you don’t have to explode.)

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Eric Wong at the Sequart Organization wrote a nifty article about the different ways comic books communicate sound.   As you examine these examples, think about the sounds in your classroom.  What is helpful?  What is hurtful or distracting?

Teachers should record their classroom instruction and interactions from time to time.  You don’t have to sit down and watch an entire lesson.  Just listen to a few minutes and notice what your students actually hear.

Acknowledge the fact that nobody likes the sound of their own voice.  (Blame science.)  But who cares?  Either out loud or in your head, ask yourself,

“What can I do to sound better?”  

Here are some ideas:

1. If your voice is monotone and flat, study television news anchors to learn about adding variety in pitch. (And drink more coffee.)

2. If you have a tendency of erupting, take a deep breath and stay calm (but firm).  (And eat more chocolate.)

3. If you have a snarky streak, save it for open mic night at the comedy club.  Students respect teachers who show them respect first.

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So whatever kind of “word balloons” you use in the classroom, make sure they fit the space and focus on learning.

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Academy, Asylum, or . . . ?

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It’s Back-to-School time, and hopefully everyone is off to a terrific start, implementing new district policies and applying Harry and Rosemary Wong’s wisdom about “the first days of school.” (Routines and procedures, practice, practice, practice.)

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Batman is back in the news too, mainly the upcoming Ben Affleck movie version with Superman a la Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns miniseries (e.g. short pointy ears). I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about that topic and teaching connections in the future (e.g. short pointy ears).

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Comparison courtesy of artist Dean Trippe @deantrippe

In the near future, a bunch of new Batman-related comics are coming out. Namely, two series start this fall, as announced by Entertainment Weekly.

One title is Arkham Manor, in which Bruce Wayne (Batman’s nice face) decides to donate his Wayne Manor to house Gotham City’s criminally insane. The mansion that’s known for masking the underground Batcave has now become the new location for Arkham Asylum. There goes the neighborhood.

Arkham Manor     Gotham Academy
 

Another Bat-title from DC—Gotham Academy—focuses on the city’s private school for rich kids.  Plaid skirt uniforms and everything.

(Side note: I’m curious about the depiction of Gotham’s public schools.  If you are curious as well, the best we can do is watch the movie Dangerous Minds and assume that instead of being a former marine, Michelle Pfieffer’s character is Selena Kyle after giving up the Catwoman costume in Batman Returns. It almost works!)

As for the comics, we’ll see what happens as both series progress in the months to come. The reason I bring them up here is to encourage all of us teachers to consider our school environment.

Academy?

Does your school building feel like an academy? It’s a fancy word, coming from the Greek “grove of Akademos,” where Plato did his teaching. Good company, no? People nowadays use the term “academy” to refer to a special institution for scholarship or for the advancement of the arts or science. 

You don’t have to teach in a special institution to advance the ideas of scholarship and appreciation for culture. Wherever and whatever you teach, consider how you can promote an “academic” attitude in your students. I’m not talking about being a snob or out of touch with reality. But we can still create an environment where learning is looked upon as a noble endeavor and great adventure.

Sometimes our schools have too much adventure, though, and may even feel like an insane asylum.

Asylum?

Does anyone in your school drink from a mug like this?  

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Or post this sign in their classroom or office?

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Schools can often feel like a facility for the mentally unstable. Beyond the humor, though, there is some truth to that notion. Think about our students’ mental, emotional, and physical states. Most of them are, in fact, a little unstable. A little “shaky,” so to speak. They should be. They’re still growing up.

And that’s why we teach them. During a school year, teachers introduce students to hundreds of ideas and skills. Our students should investigate, reflect, and practice the content, all the while strengthening (and stabilizing) their foundations—intellectually, emotionally, and more. This learning process is often challenging and frustrating, even destabilizing at times, and ultimately rewarding.

Learning can create a sense of vulnerability, and students need a safe place to learn—no matter what kind of school or classroom. 

We looked at the origin of the word “academy,” so let’s do the same for asylum. Although often associated with housing the mentally ill, the word “asylum” comes from the Latin word for “sanctuary,” a “safe or secure place.”

We can never protect kids from every unsafe event or bad influence, but we can all do our part. None of us can do it alone. Heck, even Batman has the Justice League. (And Alfred. And several Robins. And Nightwing. And the Gotham City Police Department. And the Outsiders. And Batman Incorporated. And Batmen of All Nations. And Ace the Bat-Hound.)

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Fight the good fight with your trusted colleagues, mentors, and friends. (And pets.)  You get to pick who wears the cape.

Good luck in the coming year in whatever classroom you teach. Wherever you are, it can be both an academy and an asylum for your students. And so much more.

 

Future and Past

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Yes, this post will discuss yet ANOTHER super-hero movie that recently blasted into theaters across the globe.  It’s the golden age for super-hero movies, so we might as well bask in it.

The latest super-flick selling popcorn and semi-satisfying critics/fans is X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Bonus points (i.e. “geek cred”) if you can name every character in the following poster:

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The basic premise of the film (and the classic comic book story it’s loosely based on) is that the future ends up being a mostly dismal place for mutants and humans alike.  Those grizzled heroes that are still alive decide their only hope lies in sending someone back in time (or at least their mind) to stop events that ultimately cause social dystopia.  Basically, they want to “reset” the world to make a better future.

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It’s a story that is equally depressing AND hopeful, even if the title makes no grammatical sense at all (and created a wad of continuity problems in the X-Men cinematic universe).

 

Even if you have no interest in time travel or mutant oppression, I do encourage you to stop and think how teachers can learn a lesson from this story.

How many of us wish we could go back in time (the start of the school year) and try again to establish a positive, productive classroom environment?

 

The truth is, the “first days of school” are critical to creating a climate that will endure throughout the academic calendar.  What you teach, practice, and reinforce (and what you let slide) will eventually shape the classroom setting.  It’s so important, in fact, that the best-selling teacher book of all time deals with this issue.

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My copy is a little more “used.”

Even though early classroom moments are so critical in establishing classroom expectations and habits, there is still hope for teachers who think they may have “lost their way” and lost their classroom to disorder and disrespect, confusion and chaos.

In fact, one of the biggest champions of this “reset” method is Harry Wong, co-author of The First Days of School.  During one of his “Effective Teacher” videos (Vol. 4), Dr. Wong describes how at the end of each day, teachers erase the classroom board in preparation for the next day’s learning.  This action should illustrate how we as teachers should view our work.

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Every new day is a new opportunity to “start over,” so to speak.  Even though it may be the middle of the school year, teachers can still erase past mistakes and memories and work to create a new classroom culture.  This “reset” will most likely require more than one day’s work, but we can still purposefully cultivate the type of environment we know is best for teaching and reaching our kids.  This endeavor also takes serious reflection, intentional planning, practice, reinforcement, and redirection–all in order to reestablish the classroom our kids (and we teachers) deserve.

On a larger scale, consider how the current “summer break” season is another a chance to reset your teaching expectations and actions.  Don’t stop at reorganizing your desk drawers and replacing tattered posters with shiny new bulletin board materials.  Revitalize your classroom procedures, routines, and attitudes to foster a refreshing learning environment.

The advantage to summer rejuvenation is that most of your students won’t know anything changed.  They’ll assume you’ve always been a model educator who demands excellence and champions the cause of learning.

At times, such work may seem just as challenging as mutant time travel.  But it’s definitely worth it.