Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bit 'o Jam and Victorian Slang #sol15

My wife is away on a mini-vacation with her daughter. I miss my bit o' jam and can't wait to see her when she gets home.

My WIP (work-in-progress) is an adult historical fiction set in Manchester, England in the 19th century. While researching--looking at maps, reading books such as The Gangs of Manchester, and pouring through photographs--I found a Dictionary of Victorian Slang published in 1909.

While this will be perfect to help me craft dialogue, I am looking forward to the joy in resurrecting some of the slang in my personal and professional life. I know of a colleague or two will have fun with this and I know some of the kids in my classes will get a kick out of it too.

So, my plan is twofold:

  1. I want to try and incorporate a different piece of Victorian slang in each of my Slice of Life blog posts--to help me get better at learning the slang while I continue with my WIP.
  2. On my white board at school, I'll post a new term of Victorian slang each day during the month of March. Like other teachers, I usually post famous quotes or gentle reminders ("What are you reading this weekend?") but I think the change will be good. And fun. Sometimes we have to plan for fun, right?

My first piece of Victorian slang on Monday might be "bit o' jam" which means a pretty girl. 

As in: He always hugs me and calls me his "bit o' jam"...

I am hoping that the Victorian slang experiment can inspire a few fun stories to share on my Slice of Life Challenge blog posts throughout March.

What my Kids Taught Me About Storyboards

A funny thing happened during my two-week digital lesson on creating a one to three-minute video...many of my 8th graders didn't know what to do with a storyboard. By that I mean the physical piece of paper. This completely surprised me. So many looked at the concept of drawing and writing our ideas into a storyboard as...odd. A pointless extra step.

What I learned is that my kids did indeed "storyboard"...just not in the way I envisioned it happening.

Look, I modeled it. I really did. We had several different drafts from which to cull our content. I stood in front of the class a talked through why I was choosing one specific story to tell from all of my writing.

I tried talking about the boxes as snapshots. Think of them as the photographs you are going to lay out in order to show the viewer something specific--sometimes our eyes catch what our ears cannot.

Aside: Maynard Mack, Jr.--then from the University of Maryland--explained, in 1995, The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra this way to me: if you go with your eyes, it is a play about deception...if you go with your ears, it is a play about love.

Then I learned that eyes and ears can work together, but today I wonder how often do we ask students to practice this skill or even give them an opportunity to practice it? Much of what we ask kids to do is to listen and see the same information without much nuance. When young people are absorbers of information or story and not creators of information and story, we lose the nuance.

Listen, I did not plan this epiphany. It just happened as my students stared at the storyboards. And, remember, they were already armed with drafts and revisions from a weeks worth brainstorming and prewriting and drafting. They had content. They just didn't get what or why I was asking them to storyboard on a piece of paper.

About 20% worked with this type of storyboard
Not to be denied, I broke my sample piece of writing down moment by moment within each of the blocks on the storyboard. I even rough-sketched, used stick figures, plugged in words and thoughts, to demonstrate that it did not have to be perfect.

I called it an organizer, a visualizer, a layout, and an outline for my video.

I tried to show them that it was a way to bring words one step closer to merging with the visual aspect of the story.

It didn't matter. So many of them stared at the boxes.

"What [the hell] do I do with these boxes?" they asked.

"Did you gather the pictures you might use?" I asked.

Some students needed to lay photographs into iMovie first before they decided what they needed to write. Drawing it out first just wasn't clicking. However, the act of laying the photos down is in itself a step in the right direction.

Other students needed to just write their script, revise it until it was as close to a polished document as possible. THEN they sought the images needed and only then could they lay them down in iMovie. Again, not sketched-out on a storyboard.

A smaller sample--maybe 20%--actually found the storyboards valuable. They could see and hear their story as they sketched. 

Many just wanted to see their story first or hear their story first. That is the reality of how they worked.

It was still about the writing. It was still about revision.

But it was also about my adjusting to what I was seeing.

And letting the natural storyteller inside each them take over.