3 Classy Things Dolittle Does

IMG_9875 copyAlthough I read “The Story of Mankind” first, I haven’t finished composing my blog for it. The book covers all of history, from the beginning of time to the “Great War.” (World War II hadn’t happened at the time of its publication–1921, so “World War I” was not numerated yet.) It is going to take me a couple of days to whittle my thoughts down to a handful of classy things. For this reason, I am providing my thoughts about the second ever Newbery Award winner, “The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle” (1923) first.

Hugh Lofting’s creation of a medical doctor turned veterinarian after discovering he can communicate with animals was so successful that it spawned 13 books in all. “The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle” is the second of the series. I was hesitant to jump into a sequel, having never read “The Story of Dr. Dolittle”, but was pleasantly surprised to find it very independent… and immensely entertaining, not to mention very valuable. Here are three classy takeaways.

  1.  A Unique Attitude Concerning Wealth: Dr. Dolittle cares little for monetary wealth. He needs money to go on his voyage and buy provisions, but his true wealth is the knowledge that he gains with new discoveries. The doctor never frets over where his funding will come from. He even seems to avoid the matter. When he is making a wager with Don Enrique during “The Doctor’s Wager” (Chapter 34), I was sure that Dolittle was going to ask for money. I was completely surprised by what the author put together! It was some of the most interesting reading I have experienced. Discussion Point: What is the most valuable thing you can think of? (Discuss the word “value” first.)
  2. Respect: In addition to speaking with the animals, the doctor treats them with respect. Throughout the entire book every animal is given the same level of dignity as humans. Discussion Point: The “Irony” of Dr. Dolittle cooking bacon for breakfast within sentences of a heavenly pig entering the animal-loving home. 2nd Discussion Point: I would talk to my students about the assumption of intelligence. The author, through the character of Dr. Dolittle, assumes every animal not only communicates within its species, but is smart enough to speak with any other, as long as the language specific to the species is understood. This is a fallacy that, in my opinion, ought to be mentioned, so that young listeners’ minds do not develop misconceptions.2369136756_0e0290fb16_b

Respect is given to enemies. In the beginning of chapter 48, “War!” news of a “thievish” and “envious” group of people preparing to ransack the provisions of a more studious tribe is communicated to the Dr. and his party. His response sums up the classiness of the doctor’s character: “Yet let us not judge harshly. Perhaps it is that they are desperate for food, having their own crops frost-killed before harvest” (p. 183). And, I won’t spoil it for you, but you will be as surprised as the Bag-jagderags when you read the end of “The Peace of the Parrots” to find out how the doctor treats these warmongering thieves. Discussion Point: What might someone else have come up with for “terms” of peace? Look up the terms of peace from other great wars.

Warning: With heavy heart I mention that this, like many old texts, contains traces of racism. I read the original 1921 version of the story that is now in the public domain. I thought that I would merely be mentioning the fact that the n word is used two or three times early on in the book as vernacular of England countrymen. But, upon further reflection, I want to mention a bigger idea. There is a character in the text, Bumpo, who is an African prince. This person studies at Oxford, which is prestigious, and one might, at first glance, think that this is doing Africans a service. When reflecting on the tale as a whole, however, I realized something disturbing that cannot be fixed by simple bowderization (Dominus, 2006). Bumpo, the Oxford student, is relegated to carrying things and cooking for the crew of the curlew (ship), while Tommy, an English boy of ten or eleven, is the doctor’s right-hand man. I’m not sure what kind of “discussion point” to make here, other than the fact that people have traditionally favored humans that look, act, and speak like themselves. This royal, presumably rich (Bumpo traveled to and paid for an education in Oxford.), intelligent (Bumpo was halfway through his studies.) man from Africa is portrayed as less of a person than Tommy. Think about it logically. Bumpo and the doctor have way more in common than do Dolittle and a boy. Tommy doesn’t even come from an educated, wealthy family! I must stop.

3. Science: Although purely and fantastically fictional, this fun novel paints scientific study in a perfectly delightful, exciting, and adventurous light. When other books have kids seeking treasure with buccaneers, Stubbins (the boy’s last name) joins an unlikely captain on the most exhilarating voyage any boy could hope to experience. This tale brings science to the plane of pirates, making knowledge and study as exciting and valuable as gold dublins!

Here is a bonus classy point. I loved the emphasis on thinking in this book. It seemed to me ironic that someone who does so much would be named “Do-little”. I was pleased to see his name changed, albeit temporarily, late in the book, to “Thinkalot”. It was rewarding to see this quality pointed out, rewarded, and admired in a children’s book. And with that I leave you. This was a very classy classic that I plan to read to my class this year. I look forward to the thought-provoking discussions my class and I will enjoy.

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Lofting, H. (2012). The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Sterling Children’s Books. [Bowdlerized version, omitting or changing several racially inappropriate phrases]

Dominus, M. (2006, January 23). The Bowdlerization of Dr. Dolittle. Retrieved July 8, 2018, from https://blog.plover.com/book/Dolittle.html

Award-Winning Books Are Classy

The cream of the crop is (usually) very classy. Thus, I have decided to begin a new branchIMG_8534 of The Captain of Class focusing on Award-Winning Books. A couple of years ago I purchased a poster from Scholastic Book Publishers that had pictures of all of the John Newbery Award winners on it. After laminating it, I hung it on the wall to inspire reading high-quality literature. When I look at it, I feel a sense of pride in how many of the winners I have personally read.

IMG_8533One day, as I looked at the poster, a seed of an idea rooted itself in my mind: If the ones I have read were as good as I remember, I bet the others are great as well. Borrowing a metaphor from “Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000 winner and recent read aloud), this seed of thought sprouted into a tree that all but required I read every single one of the books featured on that poster.

I recently conveyed this plan to a friend, and he told me about a grad class that required he read many of these. “They were really quite good,” he remembered. I chuckled. “Well, they won the most prestigious award that children’s literature has to offer,” I suggested.

Going in chronological order, beginning with the very first winner “The Story of Mankind” by Hendrik Van Loon from 1922, the year the award was invented, I plan to read each book and provide my two cents about its being used in the classroom. There are endless reviews of books out there, but The Captain of Class will be focusing on the “classiness” of each book. (Perhaps I will develop a “Class-o-meter” once I have a few of these under my belt.)

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My goal is to let teachers and parents know what to expect when reading each award-winning book; what to look for, what to get out of it, and what to watch for, if there are any age-questionable material. For instance, I read one of my favorites, “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” (1967), by  E. L. Konigsburg to my third grade class this past year. This classic was thoroughly enjoyed by all. In addition to constantly telling my class that this idea of two kids running away was more believable many decades ago, and that no one should even dream of this today, I had to skip an entire paragraph in the middle (p. 75). It talked about a candy bar being poisoned with marijuana, and drug Matt shares book from carpetdealers using this tactic to create dope addicts (Commonsensemedia.org). Luckily, I am a quick reader and saw some verbiage ahead of time, so that I nixed that section. I did not remember that being in the book at all! It isn’t all that terrible a thing to be in the text, but I felt out of place explaining to my 8 and 9-year-olds what dope addict and marijuana were.

Although I believe that knowledge and understanding are classy, so is innocence. Naïveté should be chipped away, lest you break the spirit altogether. This new family of blogs aims at providing readers with the tools necessary for navigating the Newbery Award winners so that classrooms can make the most out of their reading, while preparing readers for potential problems. Whether you are a teacher or parent, it would behoove you to know about concepts that minds could be too young to absorb.

I hope that you will find this blog inspiring and helpful, not to mention classy;)

“The John Newbery Medal”, American Library Association, November 30, 1999. http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/aboutnewbery/aboutnewbery (Accessed June 28, 2018)

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/from-the-mixed-up-files-of-mrs-basil-e-frankweiler/user-reviews/adult

A Class of Heros

Everyone is the “hero” of his own story. No matter what happens, the teller comes out on top. The classy teacher will know this, appreciate the mindset, empathize with each student’s self-centered, egocentric view of the world, and use it to foster classy heroes, rather than megalomaniacal monsters.

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Technology Heroes: I am in “awe” of how my students technology. They are my heroes.

Have you ever heard of someone putting a person in his/her “place”? This person uses the mask of teaching a student a lesson to vent emotions. Could this be any less classy a concept? A student is disrespectful. The teacher feels like the student would act more honorably if he/she understood his/her “place” in the construct of school hierarchy. So, the teacher, an educated grown up, belittles the youth through verbiage, discipline, or even just a look/body language (ignoring the student). The only thing that this unclassy adult is doing is showing the naturally narcissistic youth how to be truly disrespectful.

The classy teacher redirects. Instead of belittling an already little kid, build him up by showing him what a hero would do. It isn’t because of the “rules” that we don’t yell out in class. That isn’t a classy thing to do. Heros don’t interrupt. “This is what you want to do next time…”

What is a hero? The hero is a person others idolize; For kids, that is themselves. A hero is someone people look up to because of accomplishments (Cipriano, 2014). A mediocre basketball player is not as heroic as the one who leads the team to victory. Ancient civilizations made up stories and created their heros, the gods. The United States of America lavishes heroism on George Washington.

A hero is someone people connect with in order to feel better about themselves. George Washington, the father of our country, lead a rebel, underdog army to victory over the greatest military in the world! Identifying with this hero fosters pride in country and therefore person for being a citizen of that country.

Treat each student like he or she is a hero… They are… in their own minds. Help them achieve their personal greatness by assuming their hero status.

Another thing that forms people into heroes is overcoming adversity (Cipriano, 2014). The survivor of calamity is a hero to others. “I could never have done that; I would never be able to put up with that; If that had been me I wouldn’t have conducted myself nearly as classy…” An easy way to help students become the heroes they already believe themselves to be is by providing “opportunities of challenge”. When I tell my students the expectations for lining up, I make it nearly impossible for kids to do. Then I pretend to be “in awe” of the students who can actually do it. These kids are then seen as heroes from a lineage of class beyond human capability. Without making my expectations seem (they must be somewhat obtainable) unfeasible, there would be no hero. The hero can do the impossible.  

A misconception: Some teachers have the philosophy that their students all have A’s until they start doing things wrong or losing points. That is not what I am talking about. The line isn’t perfect until it isn’t.

Don’t treat students as if some day they will eventually do something great. Help them grow into their greatness by believing in them. They already believe in themselves. Build their belief into something constructive; something worth adding to. Good luck creating a class of heroes.

Cipriano, R. (2014, July 8). What Is a Hero. Retrieved June 18, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-cipriano/what-is-a-hero_b_5560441.html

Classy is Behaving “Purposefully”

Before school the other day, I was called to the office to help with something or other. The bell rang while I was there. When I went to walk up to my room, it was a little late, and I was joined by one of my students who eats breakfast in the cafeteria. This student isn’t a fast walker, but he kept up with me as I quickly maneuvered between and past meanderers.

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Purposeful Writing: Students Provide Examples of Purposeful Behaviors

As I lead this student to walk faster than he would have, I thought about how I typically walk, and how that differs from most students. I walk purposefully. After the announcements and taking lunch count, I explained this to my class. To do something purposefully means to do it with a cause, meaning, or reason in mind. You have a purpose for doing it, and that goal drives you to act a certain way. Acting purposefully is classy.

“To an observer, it may simply look as though I walk speedily, but there is more to it than that,” I explained to my class. I was moving quickly in order to get to the classroom as soon as possible, because I wanted to see my students. It is common for me to walk quickly because I interpret moving from one location to another as down-time; unproductive time. “Finally,” I concluded, “I wanted to model for my breakfaster how one might maintain a pace that will enable him to have enough time to unpack, fill in his Assignment Book Page, and begin a morning work choice… all before the announcements.” They chuckled because the boy from my story is often seen finishing these tasks during my introductory lesson of the morning.

The antonym of purposefully would be “lazily” or behaving as though your task was meaningless. If teachers want well-behaved, classy kids, we will need to make sure that our lessons are full of meaning and purpose. Following this logic, it can be expected that a group of students performing a task that has no or little value, would not do it purposefully. Rote  repetition breeds misbehavior. By definition, repetition is UNthinkingly doing something over and over; like a machine. Give students something to think about, and you are giving them purpose.

Also, in order for this to work, students must comprehend the purpose of the task they are given. I constantly tell my students to sit up straight, but I give them several reasons, none of which contain the phrase, “Because I said so.” Did you know that standing straight, in addition to looking classy, promoting health, clearing airways, etc., actually makes you more “Powerful” (Cooper, 2013)? What kid doesn’t like that idea?! Even when I occasionally have my students practice something that might require repetition, I supply a reason that encourages them to try to improve upon the task with each successive attempt.

After explaining this concept to my class, I asked them to come up with their own examples of doing things purposefully. Discussion included brushing one’s teeth. You can just run the toothbrush over your teeth and use up enough time, so that your parents think you did a thorough job, or you can actually brush them in such a way that you relieve them of  debris and plaque. Gingivitis is a painful, expensive gum disease that 60% of 15-year-olds should have prevented, but didn’t (Dowshen, 2015).

A funny example that I related to was eating. There was a slight misunderstanding of purposeful activity when a girl suggested eating the right food. I re explained the concept of behaving purposefully, before telling the students that I often find myself so engrossed in my work that I don’t realize my hunger until I am famished. Then I get angry that I have to stop and consume some nutrients. It is irritating because, as an adult, I have to find food, which means putting my project on hold, going to a restaurant or store, finding what I want, paying for it… You get the idea! This takes up valuable time; The time is only as valuable as what it was being used for, however. It is important to participate in activities that have meaning, purpose, and hold value. When I finally have my food, I devour it like a Velociraptor.

I had my students write down their examples and draw pictures of someone behaving purposefully. They also drew a picture of what it would look like if someone performed the same task purposelessly. We had fun sharing those with each other to close the lesson.

Two things in closing: First, sometimes it is classy to walk slowly. The classiness comes from the reason for the behavior. It would not be classy to speed walk through a museum. This is a place where you should take your time to ponder artwork. You cannot do that quickly. Secondly, I am often struck by the paradox that I am supposedly a classy person, who writes rather sloppily on the dry erase board. Isn’t messy penmanship unclassy? Not necessarily. If my purpose was to model perfect handwriting, then, yes, my scrawl would be less than classy, to say the least. However, I am usually modeling taking notes, when I write on the board. I only write what I think students should take down in their spiral notebooks. The speed I use, which prohibits beautifully crafted letters, demonstrates what it is like to jot down ideas while listening. Along these lines, I rarely ever write complete sentences on the board. Parents often complain about their child’s penmanship. This is the last thing that I would focus on as a teacher. Why do doctors messily fill in prescriptions? Is it because that is what doctors do, or is it because they fill in a million, as long as the pharmacy can read it, it works, and their time is used better speaking with and looking at patients? So, parents, would you rather a creative composer, or a very neat transposer?

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Cooper, B. (2013, November 21). The Science Of Posture: Why Sitting Up Straight Makes You Happier And More Productive. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3021985/the-science-of-posture-why-sitting-up-straight-makes-you-happier-and-more-product

Dowshen, S., Dr. (Ed.). (2015, January). Taking Care of Your Teeth. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/teeth.html

Restraint is Classy

I have class; I’ll pass.

I had a professor in college who taught a generic introductory counseling course. I’ve always remembered one lesson that he taught: “Do not overreact.” When a kid tells you something, don’t show your cognitive cards; hide your inner thoughts until you have all of the facts.

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The Captain of Class Models Calm-ness During Evacuation Drill

A kid tells you that another kid did something hideous; An unclassy person would jump to conclusions before all of the facts were gathered. It would not show class to start yelling or become accusatory. This would shut down the road of communication between you and the one sharing information. If you fly off the handle and begin bashing the behavior, the spicket of information will surely close and you won’t be able to effectively help the youth.

It is very possible that the kid telling you about his/her “friend” doing something inappropriate was in fact talking about him/herself. The student might just be feeling you out; What would my teacher’s reaction be if he/she learned I did this? I have had kids say they did outrageous things that they hadn’t, just to gage my reaction. If you don’t give them a reaction, they know that they can tell you anything.

One of the most common bad behaviors in elementary school that this could be applied to is stealing. When students come up to me and tell me about something that was “stolen”, my first reaction is to lessen the accusation. “Is it possible that the object is just lost?”

Student: “I just had my pencil on my desk; No, it was STOLEN!”

Me: “Could someone have thought that the pencil was theirs; Was the pencil unique to you? Would you be able to easily identify it?”

Student: “Oh, yes. I know my pencil!”

Me: “Before we begin accusing people of being thieves, lets just do one  more sweep of your work area; Also, we can ask your neighbors if they have seen a random pencil floating around.”

Student: (sometimes reluctantly, but usually calm) “Fine.”

Nine times out of ten, the object turns up having NOT been stolen. The pencil or other object was completely unidentifiable as THAT student’s, and someone else was using it. It is always a hoot when it is right on the floor under the student’s work area.

Some more examples:

Kid: “So and so kicked me”/Me: “Is it possible they were just swinging their feet, and they accidentallyScreen Shot 2018-04-08 at 11.38.36 PM touched you?”

Kid: “That person said something inappropriate. They said ‘hell’.”/Me: “You know, in some families and cultures, that isn’t a hugely awful expression…”

Kid: “My partner deleted my whole document!”/Me: “Do you think that he/she did it because they were mad at you, or is it possible that this was simply an accident?”

Find out the whole story, learn all of the facts, empathize with the rationale as best you can or is appropriate, then act. Throughout all of that, do not let emotions muddle your investigation. Also, don’t project your prejudices. You just found out someone did something considered very bad. Perhaps the person even confesses it to you. Do not even look alarmed. Pretend you hear this all of the time. Chances are, it happens all of the time, all over the place, whether you have experienced it, or not.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking Requires a Box

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The Captain of Class serves students salsa that was made in class.

It usually takes a few minutes for people to “get” the shirt that I am wearing in this picture. In my opinion, it doesn’t hurt to encourage plain old thinking. But, stick a box under it, and now we have something clever.

 

The SAMR Model presents a hierarchy for technology use in the classroom. To “Substitute” regular “oldschool” teaching methods with an iPad is the least creative way to use technology. Instead of typing on a typewriter, we use a computer that spits the document out of a printer. This is deep-inside-the-box-thinking.

There is minimal enhancement of learning when “Augmentation” occurs; Technology improves upon instruction through substitution in slightly creative ways. There is an App called “Tape Measure” that uses augmented reality to measure the lengths of items that you see on your iPad screen. This is pretty awesome tech, but you could just use a plain old tape measure. The thinking is feeling the walls of the box for weaknesses.

Transformation takes place through “Modification” and “Redefinition”. When an instructor redesigns a lesson with the use of technology, she “Modifies” the box of traditional teaching. It is like walking through C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe to a land of fantasy when kids use Nearpod.com to visit places around the world. Sitting at a desk, they can virtually hike mountains, explore Machu Picchu, and visit the Louvre.

The ultimate transformative activity technology can offer comes when “tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable” (SAMR, n.d.). This “Redefines” the box.

The SAMR model is great for understanding and evaluating technology use in the classroom, but I have found myself feeling badly if a lesson doesn’t “redefine” something. Creativity doesn’t work that way, though. In order for a sphere to stand out, there needs to be a collection of cubes surrounding it. You can only bend the rules if there are rules in the first place.  

Classroom management… This blog is supposed to have something to do with managing the classroom. The following image shows my class behaving outside of the box.

IMG_2333 I showed up to collect my students from physical education with Mrs. Krajcir, and told them to put their left foot on the black line. What happened cracked me up. My “Number 1” guy (They line up in number order.) did not see all of the out of the box-ness that was happening behind him! Originally, I snapped the shot to show everyone how classy Mr. One was, and plenty of people were shown. But, on further reflection, I am just as fond of the rest of my class for thinking/behaving so creatively. Look at their left feet. Nearly every single one is on the black line!!

Even though I love to have fun and fool around in class, teasing my students and kiddingly giving them all a hard time, I have very strict rules and guidelines. My expectations are extremely demanding. Just look at the leader of the line. That is the “box” everyone else is “Thinking outside of.” (Yeah, I ended with a preposition; Think outside the box;)

 

Kihn, M. (2005, June 1). “Outside the Box”: The Inside Story. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/53187/outside-box-inside-story

SAMR. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html

Tape Measure. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tape-measure/id1271546805?mt=8

Instructional design/SAMR Model/What is the SAMR Model? (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Instructional_design/SAMR_Model/What_is_the_SAMR_Model%3F

When Hardly Working Is Classy

Working hard is not nearly as classy as being a “hard worker”.

Probably every teacher has seen a writing assignment where a kid has written the same phrase or sentence over and over in order to make his writing look longer. A shorter, better-written response is much more valuable. We have seen the student who writes numbers all over a math assignment, but clearly the kid has no idea what to do with them. These kids may be working hard, but what would be better is listening to instruction, studying, and following directions. Yes, it is harder to take fifteen minutes and really figure out a difficult problem.

You have to be a hard worker to want to do this. If you put on a show of toiling, but everything that you are doing is wrong or low-quality, you will end up working harder in the long run.

I have been using Google tools for a few years, but this year Google Forms has transformed my teaching. I feel like I had been the one working hard, and my teaching has turned into the classy hard worker for me. Through Google classroom I assign “quizzes” that I create in Google Forms. It took a little fooling around to get the forms just right, but some of my most recent quizzes have graded student work automatically, provided students with scores and explanations (I populated the quiz with these), inspired self reflection, and even taught data analysis. Let me explain the last two concepts: I have my quizzes programmed to allow students to see other students’ responses. When a kid finishes taking his quiz and “submits” it, he clicks on “see previous responses”. This provides pie graphs for each multiple choice question displaying the percentage of students’ choices. Also, it shows every written response, minus any names. In this way, students can weigh what they wrote against what they see their peers producing. This has greatly benefited all of my students. The hard workers are going crazy to outshine each other, and the struggling writers are reading exceptional paragraphs produced by peers. Parents can see all of this, too. They can assess their child’s standing in writing ability.

This principle can be applied to classroom management, also. Kids that work hard to impress the teacher, but goof around when they can get away with it are not classy. The kids whom the teacher can count on; the ones that may not work extra at getting attention, but do everything exceptionally; they’re the classy ones. More than quantity, quality has class. Would you rather half the class making shushing sounds to help quiet the class, or two kids who communicate to the rest that the faster they all quiet down the quicker they can get to recess. The hard workers don’t have to work hard. Their “hardly working” shows class.