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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

One Hot Chocolate

One Hot Chocolate

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Now Playing» Band: Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise Record: Time to Discover I’m no coffee house snob. Lattes, mochas, and macchiatos sound like a disease line up to me. “Sorry sir, but you are infected with the drippy macchiato.” Coffee is my caffeine of choice. BUT… every now and again I find myself in the awkward position, usually on a Saturday night when the place is buzzing with hipster city folk, standing in front of the barista ready to order. I found myself in that very position on Saturday night at the Green Line Café in West Philadelphia, PA. I was there to support The Silence Kit. “The Kit,” as I like to call them, is a post-punk band that sound like The Killers and The Cure all swirled up together, put into one those silver cups, and steamed. I strolled up, joined the line, which was more like a circular meeting (“No, you go”), and devised a plan while I waited. Sneaky. (Rubbing hands together) When I finally was face-to-face with the master coffee-drink-maker I said, “Surprise me. Make me whatever you like.” She apparently gets this a lot and took it in stride. She worked her magic–– shaking, mixing, and even used the silver cup. Man, I thought. I’m getting something good. Then she filled the top of the cup with whipped cream. Huh? “One hot chocolate,” she crooned. She chose to hit me with the simple, yet complex, drink of champions; the drink of cold, snowy nights; the drink of The Polar Express. All of those fancy drinks and she picks simplicity. Isn’t that what education needs? Simplicity. Don’t get me wrong. When I say simplicity, I don’t mean reverting to the “old days” of pencil, paper, and splintered, wooden desks. I mean…. The Rules of Simple are Simple (written simply by Gaetan Pappalardo) Rule #1-What’s the Big Idea? Honing in on the “big ideas” should be first and foremost. Instead of cramming the curriculum with petty content, spend more time in the deep end. Community, Environment, Communication, Artistic Expression, etc… In his book, Holding on the Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principals Worth Fighting For, Thomas Newkirk praises Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, CO, for its mission and philosophy that fits on one side of a piece of paper. “Simple,” yet so powerful. “Teachers and students had wide latitude in how these goals were met, and everyone would return to them again and again.” (Newkirk) Now that’s spending some time in the deep end of the pool. Rule #2- Simple is as Simple Does Make it simple for the kid. Everybody can use a little “simple.” We can all agree that “the kid” has changed. Making school, or a least a bit of it, simple for today’s little bean might be adding a video game reference to your lesson; allowing kids to compose stories with different computer programs; letting them read alternative literature on the Internet; Graphic novels. Yes, pop culture needs to be valued to connect with “The Kid.” Rule #3- Simplicity needs time, believe it or not. Simple is not easy. I spend time with teachers discussing how to effectively teach kids to write. The jaws drop when I tell them I teach one whole class lesson a week. Maybe. Barry Lane, in his book But How Do You Teach Writing?, simply states: “Real writing needs real time.” How do you become a writer? You do it. How do you become a Scientist? You do science. How do you become a golfer? You golf. Time is needed for instruction, but more time is needed for the “doing.” The “doing” is what grabs you and shakes up your bones and makes you think: I want to do it again. You learn by simply “doing.” Guess what? That hot chocolate was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Simplicity, refined, refined, and refined to perfection.

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Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Nicole Siegel's picture

I always get nervous responding to blogs. You put yourself out there for everyone else to read. It scares me, but one thing I learned from Gaetan is sometimes that is the best teaching, honesty. I will tell you from experience, the students appreciate it. I have not been teaching long enough to start my retirement countdown, I still like my job (most days). I had a professor in college who once told me "don't waste your time on those portfolios and teach. No one is going to look at that binder, they are looking at the children's faces when you are in front of them. They are looking to find that you can teach." I have found my best teaching is when I think "why do they need to know this?" I am a artist, when I can bring that into my classroom, the students see I am more than a voice in front of the room. I am a person, simple. I don't scream, I don't have it in me. I teach respect. I am not perfect and I need to continue to change things up, but the students appreciate that I don't scream. It is effective. I love teaching because I never stop learning. So Gaetan, I am not the best at blogging, but thanks for inviting me into your group. I try every day to keep teaching "simpler." It is not easy and not always accepted, but worth a try.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Hey Nicole! Thanks for breaking the ice. I like your self-questioning technique, which is really a reflection. Why I am teaching this? When you strip off the layers and get down to the bare nakedness of the curriculum, it really solidifies teaching. I think all levels need to go beyond " We need to do this because it's in the standards." I think it's a shift in thinking. Yes, it's in the standards, but why are they in the standards? Why do we need to teach this? How do we need to teach this? Better yet, how can we relate it kids and show them it has value in their life.

Can you give an example of how you do this? Or tried to?

Thanks for the post.


Pat Bove's picture

Hi to all,
I'm really into finding books and relating to music. Every book has music....whether it is in the rhythm of the words, form, harmony found in the book etc. I love the award winning books...picture which give off so many ideas for music.
Presently our fourth graders are working on a multimedia project: creating a powerpoint about an area in music, creating music in Garage Band and inserting sounds into their powerpoint, and we will get to inserting clipart and burning the CD's in the next two weeks. This is our third year with the project and we are teaching process of achieving and having fun while creating!
Have a great day!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Pat, thanks for the post. Using music to help students relate/understand/ study style in books is a great method to help make life "Simple" for the little guys. So how do you specifically use books to springboard music? Are you studying writing craft, theme, style, etc..., and then demonstrating with music. Or, writing music to demonstrate the art of writing? Does that make sense? Fill us in, Sister.


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