Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Teens Discuss Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with two middle school students who had just seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians – The Lightning Thief. Both of these students were enthusiasts of the books. They have both read all the books in the series and the supplementary books. Multiple times. I have heard their fervor in looking forward to the movie. The level of anticipation for this event was extreme. Their attitude after watching it was… how do I say it nicely? Not so enthusiastic.

For a period of time which lasted for longer than the duration of the movie in question, these two intelligent teens deconstructed the film. They quoted specific parts of the book and how the movie reinterpreted the scenes. Well, they did not use those words. They did not always use words I can put in print. The changes in plot, age, hair color, scenery, character, personality and technological advances were all roundly abused. They were especially disparaging of Grover’s lack of Rasta hat and that there was no mention of enchiladas. I played the devil’s advocate and asked why they thought the film makers made the decisions they made. I posed questions of audience, economic considerations, and time factors. They rallied with their own opinions about why certain decisions were made, made assessments about whether the decision could be tolerated or not and ventured to suggest alternative solutions to the problem.

It was bound to happen. When you love a series of books as much as they do you are bound to have issues with any interpretation.

What struck me was how well they were able to perform the tasks outlined in our state standards for ELA (English Language Arts) particularly General Strand 26 – Analysis of Media. (see page 95 of the frameworks) They were doing a thorough job of analyzing media, plot, characterization, visual literacy and numerous other things I haven’t thought of. Too bad their teachers couldn’t hear them in action covering standards which they sometimes fail to come up to on standardized tests.

We are preparing our students with 21st Century Skills to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Standards for the 21st Century Learner were designed to address this. So many of the very things we want our students to accomplish were played out in front of me. I found myself feeling confident that our youth can navigate these waters. In many cases they can do it better than we can, if we will only step out of their way and let them achieve. On their own terms. Which is what we are preparing them for anyway. Let’s face it. We are openly acknowledging that we are preparing today’s students for a world which is changing so rapidly that it does not exist yet. We are preparing them for careers which have not have been thought of yet. That’s what P21 is all about. So they need that independence of mind and the ability to make connections. The challenge is to guide in ways which encourage this type of conversation. I have not mastered this. Not yet. But I have taken up the quest.

When I asked them whether they want to see the next movie in the series, as they assured me there would be one, they both gave an emphatic “Yes”. They are eager to begin the act of analysis and curious to see how the film makers will tackle the challenges they have presented themselves by messing with the story as outlined in the books. Do I have confidence in these youth? A resounding yes and I am just as interested in seeing how they navigate the challenges of their story which will be messed with by the advances in technology which will surely come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book Which Changed Everything - Everything is Miscellaneous

I finished reading Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger last week and am still reeling from the paradigm shift it caused in me. Weinberger suggests that many of the ways which we have learned to organize information are imposed upon on by the material nature of physical objects. When letting information loose in a digital atmosphere it is freed of the limitations unleashing an entirely new set of organizational possibilities. To say this book was transformative does not even begin to touch the way in which it challenged my long held, strongly defended, stubbornly clung to beliefs. The possibilities are exhilarating.