Bob Boone

Taking the Moe on the Road

Bob Boone and I will taking our “Moe Show” on the road again this fall: We’ll be presenting at both the IATE Conference in Rockford, IL. on October 23rd and the NCTE Conference in Orlando, FL. on November 21st . Here’s a peak at what we plan to do:

Creating a Classroom Event: Using Student Performance to Appreciate Setting

“Maycomb…was a tired old town when I first knew it.” Students will enjoy a book more if they understand its world, especially if that world bears a connection to their own. Learn how to help your students make pre-reading connections by guiding their creative energy into an engaging classroom performance. The “Moe Method” of creative questioning is based on the premise that our students have something to say and need only the time and the attention to have what’s inside emerge.
Over the years we have found our “Moe Method” to be a simple, creative, and adaptable classroom strategy. In 2006, we first introduced the “Moe Method” at the NCTE Convention in Nashville. In 2008 we took “Moe” to San Antonio and then on to Philadelphia in 2009. At these conventions we focused on the “simple” and “creative” aspects of our approach. Now by incorporating the element of student performance, we’d like to show Orlando how “adaptable” the “Moe Method” can be.
Learning by doing, participants will collaborate with others in small groups to write, perform, and enjoy an interactive Reader’s Theatre event. There are a number of reasons we stage these events in our classrooms:

1) Students gain an insider’s perspective on the stylistic decisions involved in characterization.
2) Students observe firsthand the effect of setting on plot, conflict, etc.
3) Students get the opportunity to incorporate different aspects of learning such as music, graphics, and drama into the reading of a book.
4) Students get more involved, period.

For reason #4 alone, it is time well spent.

Although these events are generally used in conjunction with longer literary works, for the purposes of this session a single poem will serve as the literary prompt. Each participants will be given a copy of “Autumn Begins is Martin’s Ferry, Ohio,” a short poem which nevertheless conveys a strong sense of place. Breaking into small groups, participants will talk briefly about this poem and the world it suggests: When does this take place? Who else lives there? Who fits in? Who doesn’t? What else do we want to know?

After the brief discussion, each participant will be issued a brief description of a person who might conceivably live in Martin’s Ferry: (e.g. a wise bartender, an embittered school principal, an idealistic reporter, etc.). Participants will then use Moe Method worksheets to create character profiles of their assigned persons. These profiles will then be converted into short free verse poems/monologues. Writing in the voice of their assigned characters, participants will describe the world of Martin’s Ferry and their places within it. Excerpts from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology will be provided as writing models. Experimentation, however, will be encouraged, and writers will be urged to choose whatever format feels most comfortable.

Collectively these views combine to create a vivid impression of a particular place and its people. Pieces will be read and discussed within the small groups and in turn selected samples will be shared with the group at large. Background music and pictures will supplement the performance and demonstrate further media options. A discussion of the performance format and its various classroom applications will follow. Lesson plans, handouts, and student-generated examples from teaching units on To Kill a Mockingbird and Our America will be distributed to all participants.

The “Classroom Event” project is easily adapted to use with a longer work. For instance, this week I am using the project as a pre-reading activity for To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Maycomb Moe” begins with photo analysis/primary source research assignment. Each student is issued a Depression era photo with a visual literacy guide on the back. Goals for the students are threefold:

  • Hone analytic skills
  • Gain a sense of the TKAM time period
  • Get comfortable speaking publically

After the students have analyzed their pictures (either in-class or for homework), project a large version of each picture up on the screen (an overhead transparency works fine, but you can make a power point or DVD montage if you’re so inclined). When students see their own photos on the screen, they go to the front of the room. Without the benefit of their notes, they spend a couple of minutes explaining to the class various details they have noticed and some conclusions that they have drawn. Students in the “audience” then have an opportunity to point out additional details and make further speculations. By the time you’ve gone through all the pictures/presentations, the class should be fairly comfortable with the world of Alabama in the 1930’s.

Now that the class has a working sense of the time and place of To Kill a Mockingbird, each student generates a list of people/professions who might inhabit an Alabama town in the 1930’s. The kids generally enjoy this part, and it’s a painless review of nouns and adjectives as well. Then break the class into groups of 6-members and have them share their “Personal Maycomb” character lists. The groups should decide which character each group member should portray in the final performance. Tell the groups that each production should revolve around an event or happening that has somehow impacted the life of the townspeople (a fire, a flood, a murder, a scandal, a birth, a bankruptcy, etc.). Responding to a catalytic event provides a unifying focus to the performance. Once their characters are selected, students can expand their characters by answering the questions on the “Alabama Moe” sheets.

Since Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology provided the original inspiration for this project, a youtube clip of a performance can give the class an idea of what the final product could look like. When you feel that the class has a fair idea of what might be done, issue each group a piece of butcher paper and markers. Tell them to make a bubble chart with the focus event in the middle and their various characters’ names clustered around it. The groups should then draw arrows and jot down as many connections as possible among the characters themselves and the event. This activity further establishes a focus for the performance.

Once the basic premise for the show is established, distribute the sample Spoon River free verse character poems. Using these samples as guides, students should then write a rough draft of their own character monologue-poems. Students will then peer edit their groups’ poems and offer suggestions to one another for expansion, clarification, etc. At this point the groups can begin discussing the sequencing, blocking, props, etc. needed to turn the collection into a performance. Depending on your expectations for the quality of the actual performance, this stage can be expanded as you see fit.

On the day of the actual performances, bring in a CD of Depression Era music (the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack works well) and a power point or DVD montage of the original pictures. By playing the CD quietly in the background while projecting the photos on the screen, you’ve added an easy but effective multi-media layer to the performances. Afterwards discuss the plays both individually and collectively. Now when your students go to read To Kill a Mockingbird, they should bring some interesting perspectives on the making of Harper Lee’s “real” Maycomb, Alabama.
  • Monday
  • Research/photo. Analysis/group sharing; Depression era photos, and visual literacy guide.
    Homework: Populating your own Great Depression Era Town.

  • Tuesday
  • Casting the production/small group work. “Alabama Moe” sheets and Spoon River YouTube video (optional).
    Homework: Expanding Your Character

  • Wednesday
  • Plotting out the performance: Making the Cluster Chart. Butcher paper and markers, Spoon River writing models.
    Homework: Free Verse Character Poem (rough draft)

  • Thursday
  • Peer editing character poems, Peer editing sheets.
    Homework: Planning/Rehearsing the performance

  • Friday
  • Performances. Photo montage DVD, 1930"s music CD, Grade Rubric.

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