February 1, 2021
Mondays are hard whether you’re on Zoom or not. Mondays when there’s snow in the forecast are even more fun. Mondays that would likely have been a snow day if this were normal school but instead we’re all on zoom?
I’d spend thirty minutes yesterday trying to get Canvas and Zoom to link up and I made a hash of it, so my morning began with half the kids in class with me and the other half in Zoom purgatory. I couldn’t tell if I’d put the wrong meeting ID or if the students were entering the class via older links. I could probably have figured it out. But I didn’t. (These are just more time-consuming tasks that Zoom school adds on…more on that later this week.)
Anyway, today was the launch of the new unit for English Three. This is my third year teaching The Great Gatsby and I have a clear idea about how I want to organize the class. The intellectual piece will turn on three themes — authenticity, opportunity, and the American Dream — and they’ll do short essays on each as well as an in-class exam, whatever that means in Zoom. I joked with them that we were going to create a portfolio of their work and that I couldn’t come up with a positive name, i.e., “transformative academic writing” or “powerful academic writing”, so we’re going to call the final portfolio “academic writing that doesn’t suck.”
At one point, the School District was looking for video of how to best Zoom practices and one of their prompts was about how to best launch a unit. I don’t know that there’s a perfect way to open a unit. One approach is to show models of past work. If you’re entering a contest of some sort, there’s examples and rules. I tend to try and get kids excited about the big questions we’re going to be grappling with; if they can see the point of those questions or better, how people might argue about them, then that can propel the unit forward
So today we began with Zoom chat prompts:
What do you think about when you think about opportunity?
What do you think about when you think about authenticity?
What do you think about when you think about the American Dream?
There’s a weird and generally effective thing that happens in this situation. I ask the question out-loud, kids respond after a minute, I ask them to point at one or another and discuss it. Some kids unmute, some kids write novels in chats, some kids unmute both their camera and their mic — but it’s a mix, a kind of improvisation happening in three formats.
In talking opportunity, we got to splits along race, class, and gender quickly. We got to the question of whether opportunity is equally distributed or not. And we got to the idea that equality of opportunity is not the same thing as equality of condition.
Some quotes we’ll build around:
It's treated as something you earn/work for, but in reality, opportunities are more like privilege. (A)
I think about how unequal opportunities are. I think a lot of people see opportunities as good luck, but it's not necessarily meant to be. The system invented opportunities, and that's not to say that the most marginalized people never get opportunities, but they don't mean the same thing. Opportunities are like options for the privileged, opportunities are necessary for everyone else. (Y)
Theres always opportunity to be a creator but putting energy towards it without a backup plan is frowned upon and discouraged at pretty much every mention (A)
I think we’re awarding opportunity too big of a meaning. I don’t know how to articulate what I’m thinking but I don’t think opportunities are always the big change we think they are. I think they can be presented in even the smallest ways. (S)
And then we ran out of time just as we were starting the process of taking ideas of authenticity apart.
For next time, we’re going to look at the OED definitions of authenticity and opportunity as well as these two articles on the American Dream: