StarTeaching Feature Writer
You can visit Chris at his website www.surawordz.com  

Chris Sura, upon earning his Bachelor’s at Western Michigan University worked for Central Michigan University in Housing before teaching at River Valley High School. When he moved to Houghton Lake where he currently teaches, Chris completed his Masters in Education at Central Michigan University. A member of the Crossroads Writing Project through Ferris State University, he facilitates a conference on Professional Writing every summer and does online instruction through Kirtland Community College. He is married to Heidi, his wife of twenty years, and has two kids, Christopher and Grace. Chris writes poetry and fiction and has self published a book of poems. 

Past Articles from Chris:

Going Beyond With Journals
Clash of the Titans

 

Going Beyond With Journals

By Chris Sura

Three…two…one…and we are off on a new school year. It is usually a great time to start new techniques, practices or units. After my summer with the Crossroads Writing Project through Ferris State University back in 2006, I brought in a more active journaling program to my classroom.

I have always struggled with journal writing in my own personal writing world because I found my writing voice too forced; I thought certain rules had to be observed. My view, however, was changed with reading Breathing In/Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher and with practicing journal writing with my summer Crossroads Institute. I was able to run, sometimes with scissors, on the journal page. This led to the use of journals in the classroom.

I used the daily journal writing as a part of creative writing class that fall. It worked well. It was a great tool for brainstorming, gathering information and writing. It fit the writing process well. Plus, I was able to develop several writing prompts and a grading system for its use. It fit the creative process.

So, my next question was could I tie it in to other academic classes. Since they were already taking notes, to use prompts related to notes, textbooks and current events was an easy expansion with my journalism, science fiction and fantasy and drama classes.

Basically, I would put a writing prompt on the board at the start at class. Students would date the entry and respond to the prompt. The prompt would be related to the topic or theme of the unit we were working on. For example, when discussing freedom of the press for journalism, I would put up prompts like “What rights do students have?” or have them read a news article about an issue with students and their freedom and have the students respond. With my science fiction class, I would ask, “What are rules or patterns that we associate with having wishes granted?” at the beginning of the unit on wishes.

The journal stays open for most of the class. 

I would either discuss the prompt, or save it for later in the class when we hit it with the lesson. Their notes went into the journal. Also, brief short answer assignments went in it too. The class spent the week filling their journals with information, writing, their ideas and so on. As we went through readings and discussion, the prompt or question would progress to “How did the court ruling of Tinker vs. Des Moines affect student rights?” or “How did today’s short story follow the rules or break the pattern of granting wishes?” Students would then start formulating their own opinion with support.

On Fridays, Writing Days, we would go to the Writing Lab (computer lab according to others) and write.

Writing Days would be impromptu writings related to the week, or it may be assignments shared at the beginning and developed through the week. Either way, students came with stuff in their journal and did not have to spend time figuring out what to write. As the semesters rolled by, I even started offering two or three writing options for Writing Day. Student liked the choice. They could write on a topic, still in the realm of the topic or there, that clicked with them.

My scoring I wanted to keep simple. On Writing Day, I collected the journals. I would put a plus, check, minus or zero for the week and record it in my grade book. Plus was for the students who went beyond the required material for the week, check for those who did the required writing and notes, minus was for those it did not do all, and zero was for those who did not bring it in on Friday. Before parent/teacher conferences, I converted the marks and added up the score. If there were five weeks of journals, I would set the points possible at 45. A plus was worth 10, checks were 8 and a minus was 6. This way, the student who did more earned a few extra credit points, and the average student would get a around a 40 out of 45, a good grade.

To facilitate more importance on the journal and the writing process, I also let them use the journal on the written portion of the semester exam. 

Experimenting with different classes, I found that the more mature student did not need to have the weekly journal check. With a freshman English class, I found that the journal helped develop organization skills, note taking and using writing to think; it takes the class beyond the note taking by linking notes to the thought process in the same place.

Journaling is flexible to any teaching and learning style.

The big benefits to journaling are free writing, thinking on paper and prompts that take the facts beyond the recall level of education that can develop a student’s higher level thinking skills, problem solving and application of knowledge.

As a teacher in the classroom, I would encourage you to journal with your students. Role modeling behavior, writing and thinking not only helps your student learn, but it let’s the student see more of you through instruction.

In conclusion, a journal can be used in any class to any level. But if used to its full potential, a journal stores knowledge, develops thought, strengthens understanding and enhances writing.


Clash of the Titans

By Chris Sura

In 1981, Clash of the Titans hit the cinemas. Being a fan of fantasy and mythology, I eagerly went with my friends and enjoyed the movie. At the time, I never thought it could be a lesson that I could use in a classroom. Several years later, it is has become part of the introduction to my Science Fiction and Fantasy class.

In the class, I show how elements of mythology evolve into the elements that make up fantasy and science fiction. To establish this baseline, I do short unit on Greek mythology. This includes the story of Perseus, which is the basis of Clash of the Titans. The unit closes with a great opportunity to write a compare/contrast essay between the movie and the myth-proper.
 

After brainstorming and recalling all the myths, gods, heroes and monsters the students can remember, I start connecting the random names and things. Students are most familiar with Odysseus, some recall Hercules thanks to Disney, but few are familiar with Perseus. Therefore, it makes a great lesson because it can be something new.

Many of the students know who Medusa was and what she could do. Also, the concept of the winged horse, Pegasus, is familiar. They, however, did not know the connection between the two or how they relate to Perseus.

A fun way to get the class involved is through MythWeb.com. They have a page on “Heroes” that takes you to Perseus. Through the site, the students can read an encapsulated (and animated) version of the myth. I have my students take notes on the order of events. We discuss things like the Pegasus connection, how Perseus came to be, as well as why he needed Medusa’s head.

Next in the unit is to watch the movie. The 1981 version of Clash of the Titans is lacking in special effects. It was great at the time, but with CGI technology in film making, my students found parts of the movie difficult to watch without laughter. The students, with a few prompts on the board or discussions, learn to pick up the differences of the film to the myth-proper. The movie does a good job illustrating how key bits of information are kept and how a Hollywood adaptation changes other parts. For example, Pegasus was born from the blood of the slain Medusa; yet in the movie, he was captured by Perseus so he could travel more easily.

The two story lines are engaging. The students over the years have written some good essays picking a part the movie’s adaptation of the myth-proper. The students have had fun. Even if you do not have a science fiction class, it is a different avenue to writing a compare-contrast essay.

Now comes the remake. The 2010 remake had awesome special effects that enticed the current movie-goer. The story moved much faster, and the story changed more drastically. King Acrisius of Argos was told that his grandson, Perseus would kill him and at the very end of the myth-proper, Perseus accidently does kill his grandfather. In the 1981 version, the king is killed in the beginning by the Kraken (a titan). In the new version, the king is directed by the gods to stop Perseus in his quest and does later die by Perseus’ hand.

I have debated whether to take the compare-contrast further by comparing both movies. The 2010 version even changes things from the 1981 version. But, maybe I would be getting carried away.

No matter what I do next, taking a movie I enjoyed years ago and bringing in mythology to write an essay has been a fun and flexible unit.


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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