Monday, November 28, 2016

Movie Post: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

A screenshot I took on my laptop while watching "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."
  1. What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie?  Support your answer with examples.

    This is an inspiring film to watch, especially for a teacher, because it explores the message that one must dedicate their life to becoming better at whatever it is they do. Teaching is a profession in which many educators experience burn out and may even seek a different job after the first year or so. However, Jiro speaks a different message. Jiro says, "Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably." Wow! If teachers went into work with the mindset of loving their job instead of complaining about it, think about how much better the whole school system would be.
  2. If applicable , discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational? Why or why not?

    The biggest flaw of this movie, or rather of Jiro's restaurant, is its rather sexist nature. In an interview that was not included in the documentary, Yoshikazu said women cannot be shrimp chefs: "The reason is because women menstruate. To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle, women have an imbalance in their taste, and that's why women can't be sushi chefs." This reasoning makes absolutely no sense and is not based on any biological fact or scientific research. Its simply a sexist attitude that Yoshikazu and his father likely share. There are no women chefs in Jiro's kitchen, and Jiro's wife is barely mentioned in the entire film.
  3. Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film?

    The director of this film is David Gelb, a 33-year-old American man. He is quoted as saying, "Originally, I was going to make a film with a lot of different sushi chefs who all had different styles, but when I got to Jiro's restaurant, I was not only amazed by how good the sushi was and how much greater it was than any other sushi restaurant I had ever been to, but I also found Jiro to be such a compelling character and such an interesting person. I was also fascinated by the story of his son, who is fifty years old, but still works for his father at the restaurant. So, I thought, 'Here's a story about a person living in his father's shadow while his father is in a relentless pursuit of perfection.' It was the makings of a good feature film." Therefore, Gelb's ethnic and cultural background do not necessarily contribute to his directing of this film, but his experience at the restaurant does.
  4. What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class,gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?

    This movie seems to reinforce the stereotype that anyone is capable of money, success and fame if they work hard enough for it. At the age of 9 in the first grade, Jiro says his parents abandoned him. Jiro said, "I had to work just to survive." Therefore, I could see this movie as being misinterpreted to justify the idea that anyone who grows up in poverty and cannot become successful because of their background is "lazy" or "not working hard enough."
  5. What the movie added to your visual literacy?

    As an English education major, I can honestly say I don't have much interest in cooking or sushi for that matter. Regardless, I found myself totally engrossed in this film. I don't even like seafood, but the food looked so good in the film that I found myself wondering if I could ever go to Japan to try Jiro's restaurant myself. In my personal experience, I have noticed a huge visual component to the taste of food: If food looks good, I am more apt to think it tastes good, whereas if it looks disgusting, I am less apt to think it tastes good.
  6. What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?

    One part of the film that I very much enjoyed is the soundtrack and comparison of Jiro's kitchen to an orchestra or concerto. Just as the music repeats itself and follows a steady rhythm, so do the motions of the chefs in Jiro's kitchen. I found myself totally relaxed and absorbed in the film as I watched the chef's perform their techniques with the soothing music in the background. It helped me understand why cooking is cathartic for people.
  7. Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations (optional).

    One of my favorite quotes of the film: "I wasn't sure if I should tell the kids that they should study hard or that it is okay to be a rebel. Studying hard doesn't guarantee you will become a respectable person. Even if you're a bad kid, there are people like me who change. Always doing what you are told doesn't mean you'll succeed in life."

    I also found it interesting that the first thing the chefs notice when customers arrive is whether they are male or female. Males receive larger portion sizes than females so they can stay on the same pace as they eat through the courses. Chefs also notice if any of the customers are left-handed, and if they are, the food is then served to their left side. There are only 10 seats at the counter, and a person's meal might only last 15 minutes, but people are convinced it's worth it.

Aha Journal: November 28th: Author Visits in Schools

Image taken by Mississippi State University and used with
permission from Flickr.

Author Visits in Schools

Since I was unable to blog over the last couple of weeks (my birthday, the NCTE convention and Thanksgiving made for a busy time), here is a second post for today.

While I was at the NCTE convention in Atlanta, I attended a session about hosting an author visit at a school. This is something I've never thought much about doing in my own classroom probably because in all of my years in the education system, I never had an author speak to my class. What a shame!

How awesome would it be for your students to meet the author of the book they just read together as a class?!

If you're interested in hosting an author visit at your school, I have divided the blog into sections with helpful tips and points to consider.

Example of a book cover drawing. Image by andres musta
and used with permission from Flickr.

 Before the visit

  • Make sure your students READ THE BOOK FIRST! It is not the author's job to try to sell their book to your class. Authors want to have an educated conversation with students about questions they might have about their book.
  • Promote the visit. Build it up in the school and the community that this author is coming. Some schools create huge posters of the book, and it is even better when the English teachers work with the art teachers to have art students draw these posters by hand.
  • Limit the number of sessions. Authors prefer to speak only 3 times in one day. They are not going to come to your school and talk nonstop for 7 class periods. Consider having 1 motivational talk in the auditorium, 1 focused session with 1-2 classes combined, and 1 session for 20 students to experience a creative writing workshop.

During the visit

  • Don't rely on the author to help students understand controversial material. Authors are going to be on the student's side during their visit, not necessarily the school's or the teacher's. Sensitive topics should be discussed with students ahead of time.

After the visit

  • Have students write notes to the author or thank-you letters.
  • Tweet to the authors!

Skype visits

  • Not as powerful as an in-person visit, but it is cheaper.
  • Expect the author to talk for a shorter amount of time (30 minutes max).
  • Some authors will not do Skype sessions because they appreciate the energy of a room.
  • Decide on a focus of your Skype session ahead of time. Know what your students need.
  • Have students ready and comfortable to speak. Authors will do a Q&A session about their book if you think this is the best use of their time, but have students prepare questions ahead of time to avoid awkward silences.
  •  Make sure technology works ahead of time.
  • Consider the time difference between your state and the author's state or country. Be respectful that the author may not want to wake up at 5am to Skype with your first period class.


  • Paid visit > free visit.
  • Know what you can afford to pay and ask up front what the authors charge. Respect their rates.
  • Authors expect to be paid on time.
  • Consider applying for grants.
  • Partner with another school or the public library to make the visit more affordable.
  • Find an up-and-coming author as opposed to an established author; it will be cheaper.

Aha Journal: November 28th

#NCTE16: National Council of Teachers of English Convention

For November 17th-20th, I had the opportunity to attend this year's NCTE convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This convention was a learning in trip in many ways... From accidentally booking an illegal Airbnb room to eating Indian food for the first time, there was never a dull moment on this trip.

In regards to visual literacy, I intentionally chose to attend a session entitled "Using Visual Texts to Aid Critical Thinking."

The session began with the following image:

"The Long Stretch" by artist Jacob Lawrence. All rights reserved.
Image used from Give Us Art.
When you look at the image, what do you see?

I saw a moment in a baseball game. The man in the front is a white man holding a red globe, the ref is a white man signaling that the player is out, and the black man in the back is on the base. This image is confusing because the ref is saying the black player is out before the white player has even caught the ball. Perhaps the image is more than a moment in a baseball game?


Critical literacy is using text as a resource to go deeper. When students give a wrong answer after reading a text, teachers should not tell them they are wrong; rather, teachers tell them to go back to the text. The same needs to be true when asking students to interpret a visual, such as the one seen above.

Visuals are a powerful aid for helping students make sense of a text. For example, students often gloss over color and images in a text. They hate reading about setting. I am guilty of this as well. This is a perfect opportunity to pair a visual with a passage from a text, though, so students can actually picture and imagine a setting in their head.


There is also an opportunity to use visuals to help students understand character's point of view. When students are given a visual, such as a political cartoon or a visual representation of characters from a movie or book, they can write about the image from the point of view of a character who is actually in the scene. Students "become" the character in their writing, using 1st person to say how their character feels and thinks within the context of the image. This activity works best when students get to choose their character. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Global Collaboration

Global Collaboration Basics

As a college student, I have never used global collaboration in any of my classes in elementary school, middle school, high school or college. I graduated high school a year after my school received 1:1 laptop technology, and I wonder if I just missed out on these opportunities in my own education.
I had never even heard of global collaboration before this unit. Of course, I've heard of the idea of teachers using Skype to bring in speakers to their classroom from other parts of the world, which is one type of global collaboration. As we've learned, though, global collaboration has the capability to go much further than this.

Students in our classrooms can actually collaborate with students from all across the globe. It is not hard for teachers who take initiative to connect with other teachers and classrooms across the world who also want to collaborate. For example, I recently joined The Global Read Aloud on Facebook, and teachers from across the U.S. and the world post daily about units they are currently doing in their classrooms that they would like to collaborate on.

Examples of Global Collaboration Projects

  • Global Read-a-Thon: This is a project in which students all read the same book and collect pledge money. The read-a-thon is scheduled for two hours on November 22nd, and teachers can either read independently with their class or Skype with another class. Teachers are encouraged to use #GlobalReadAThon on Twitter add a pin to the Global Read-a-Thon map to see where other schools are participating.
  •  Postcards across the world:

In this project, students in Missouri and Australia wrote postcards to each other and drew pictures from a book that both of the classes are reading. As a high school teacher, I would not do this particular project, but I would like to incorporate creativity and art into my own global collaboration project.

Projects for my classroom

 As a future high school English teacher, I intend to do a global collaboration project within the context of a language arts classroom, possibly with a class of ~20 9th grade students. I would like to connect with a teacher and classroom from another part of the world, possibly Germany. I am interested in Germany as a country because I have been there before myself and find that most German students in high school speak English fairly fluently.

One project I am thinking about doing is a global collaboration Shakespeare unit. I want my students to use Twitter to engage in conversations via using a specific hashtag, such as #globalshakespeare. My goal would be for both my class and the German class to read the same Shakespeare text at the same time, such as Romeo and Juliet, which is commonly taught in 9th grade.

After the Twitter conversation, I would like my students to work in small groups with the German students using a platform like Zoom. This would be similar to literature circles which are popular in high school language arts classrooms today. Each group would consist of both American and German students, and each student would have a specific task or role within their group, such as the summarizer, the descriptive text selector, the setting analyst, artist, and the discussion director. Each student would be responsible for completing their task before class and sharing what they wrote with their literature circle group during class. The German teacher and I would then be able to bounce from the various Zoom rooms to make sure students are staying on task and having productive discussions.

The biggest challenges of doing this type of project are the technological barrier and developing lesson plans/rubrics with another teacher. Technology does not always cooperate with lesson plans. The internet might be down one day, or a student's laptop might crash during the middle of class. In regards to working with another teacher, it is going to involve much planning outside of class time to create daily lesson plans and rubrics that are aligned with standards in both the U.S. and in Germany.

The biggest advantage is the priceless cultural knowledge students will gain from working with one another. They will also be able to see how technology can be used as a tool to bring people together from across the world. Perhaps students will even become friends with each other and add one another on social media, and even after the project is over, they will stay in touch.

 Reflection on Global Collaboration Project

 My experience trying to do a Global Collaboration project for this class was rather frustrating. It confused me as to why this project did not succeed in connecting two classes because I feel there was a very detailed and structured plan conceived behind it. Not to blame the other professor at Connecticut, but I can't help but wonder if he did not introduce the project to his classes in the same way that Dr. Zeitz introduced it to us. While we were excited to work with them, I don't think they were as nearly as excited to work with us. They also did not have to do this project as part of their class for a grade, so there was less extrinsic motivation for them as well. In the 1-week recovery attempt, I assume many students received our emails and were either confused or did not want to work with us since it was an optional assignment. It was frustrating, though, that these students did not bother to email us back to let us know they were not interested. This experience has taught me just how important it is to be on the same page when working with a cooperating teacher in a classroom in another state or country. In order for a global collaboration project to succeed, students need to be held to the same standards and expectations in both of the classrooms.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Movie: Crash

This week for Visual Literacy, I watched the movie Crash from 2004. Before I dive into my post, I just wanted to share something humorous that happened. Netflix literally kept crashing on my laptop as I tried to play the movie! Perhaps it's a sign that the sorts of issues exposed in the movie are still "crashing" in our country today, especially in light of the recent political election.

Now to answer the questions...
  1. What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie?  Support your answer with examples.
    To me, this is a movie about people's perceptions of race. I remember watching this movie in high school for the first time and thinking it was about karma, but in reality, it is much more than that. This film shows how everyone has racist attitudes and behaviors, which contributes to a cycle, or chain, of eternal racism. Until people start to change, both whites and minorities, in regards to the prejudices they carry about other races, this chain will continue to exist.
  2. If applicable , discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational? Why or why not?
    Out of all of the films we have watched for this class, I believe this one has done the best job of depicting minorities accurately and the types of prejudices they face on a daily basis. In one of the first conversations in the film, an Asian woman tells a woman of Puerto Rican descent that she hit her car because "Mexicans don't know how to drive," and the other woman makes the Asian woman appear to be an idiot for saying the word "blaked" instead of "braked." I think this interaction happens more than people would care to admit. When people feel attacked, they become defensive and often retaliate the negativity, and I imagine this is particularly true when people feel attacked because of their race.
  3. Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film?
    The director of this film is Paul Haggis, a white man who dedicated his film to Anita Addison, a black woman who was also a director and producer. According to IMBD, Addison was the first person to read Haggis' script for the movie. I believe Haggis' friendship with Addison inspired him to write the movie script in the first place.
  4. What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class,gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
    There are several racist comments made throughout the movie which are never fully addressed or explained later on in the film. For example, Sandra Bullock refers to the Latino man who fixes the lock on her door as a "gang banger," yet no one ever tells her that this is wrong to say, and the only "price she pays" in the film is spraining her ankle on the stairs. Someone who watches this film might be offended, therefore, that these racist attitudes which people hold are brought to light, but nothing is done to actually address them in the film.

  5. What the movie added to your visual literacy?
    As I watched this film, the main aspect I thought about was perception. The way that people perceive the world "colors" their every move. The blonde cop, for example, is led to believe that black people can't be trusted. When he picks up one of the black criminals on the street, he is quick to assume that the man is going to pull a gun out of his pocket instead of the statue, so he fatally shoots the man.
  6. What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
    One of my favorite artistic components of the movie is the scene where the blonde man's car is burning, and the black TV director pull his car to the side of the road to get out. There is white powder flying through the air from the fire, yet it is also snowing. I really liked this image.
    Another part of the film that was very powerful for me is when the racist police officer must pull the black woman who he groped out of the burning car. This part made me cry because I think it is the past I could identify with most as a woman. He easily could have left the woman to burn, yet he dove back into the car to pull her out. To me, this is the most hopeful image of the whole movie: the most racist man, when it comes down to it, will risk his life to save the black woman who he belittled and assaulted earlier in the film.
  7. Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations (optional).
    What a great movie! Like I said, I've seen this movie before, but I enjoyed it more now that I am older and can understand the film's purpose better.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Aha Journal November 10th: Body Image

Body Image in College

After watching Killing Us Softly, I have paid more attention to how women, especially in college, obsess over their bodies. On Monday, our professor asked us to bring a couple of images we have seen in ads which portray what women should look like.

Here are a couple of images I found:

This image, taken from an ad that appeared in Seventeen Magazine, shows a woman with perfect skin. If you look closer, she is holding her knee in the photo, but her knee doesn't connect to her body. Clearly, this image was photoshopped.

This is an ad from Cosmo. The image is negative for both women and men. For women, it suggests you must wear a tight pink dress, have windblown hair and wear this perfume to get a man's attention. For men, it suggests you must have abs and muscles to win over an attractive woman.

The ads I found disturbed me. People my age often make comments that they do not pay attention to ads, yet what they say about their bodies suggests they do look at the ads and compare themselves to them constantly.

For example, I work as an RA on an all-freshmen floor. Last night, I hung out with a couple of my residents in their room and asked if they wanted a cookie. Another resident walked by and said she didn't want a cookie because she "could feel herself becoming fat."

When we asked her what she met, she proceeded to explain that "the freshmen 15 has become the freshmen 22," meaning she has gained 22 pounds since college started. I made a comment that weight is just a number, and my resident told me that she bets my weight has never changed.

This whole conversation shows how women on college campuses compare themselves to the women around them and feel they are not attractive unless they are skinny. There is a constant obsession with weight and size. I have heard my residents talk about dieting, and they won't allow themselves to ever eat dessert in the dining center. Another girl I know has recently posted photos of herself on social media to brag about how she has recently gotten her size down to a 0.

It breaks my heart to see this happening. I am not mad at anyone for wanting to be thin; rather, I am mad at society for making these women feel they are ugly for not weighing a certain number or being a certain size. Killing Us Softly has opened my eyes to how big of a problem body image has been and continues to be for all women. I hope that as an RA, I can find ways to help my residents feel beautiful and realize that if they are happy and healthy, it should not matter what "number" they are.

What are some ideas you have for supporting people who struggle with body image? Any tips for an RA to help their residents with this?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Movie: Wag the Dog

  1. What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie?  Support your answer with examples.
    This movie shows how people in the U.S. really have no idea what is going on in the U.S. government and can easily be deceived and manipulated to believe whatever the government wants Americans to believe. In this film, the ultimate goal is to get the president re-elected, but when he is caught in a sex scandal, he risks losing the election. So, Conrad, who is a spin doctor, decides to fake a war as a distraction to the American people. Conrad states that "war is show business" and people remember iconic images, but they never remember the war. So, Conrad contacts Stanley, a Hollywood producer who helps Conrad film a "war" in Albania. They film an Albanian orphan carrying a kitten in a village which goes viral on news outlets. Of course, the American people believe this war is real, and they forget about the sex scandal. Then, they create the image of a war hero, Schumann, who is taken in Albania as a prisoner of war. This sparks a song called "Old Shoe" as well as a movement in which people throw their shoes in trees, on the floor of a gymnasium, on power lines, etc. This film shows just how easily people can be deceived by the "news," and it suggests that people should not be so apt to believe what they see on TV. 
  2. If applicable , discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational? Why or why not?
    The focus of this movie is not on minority issues. There is one lead woman in this movie, Winifred, and she is blonde and never seems to be able to get anyone to listen to her. In this way, this reinforces the stereotype of a "dumb blonde." In addition, there are few ethnic minorities who appear in the film. In the first scene, we see two Asian men and one black man in serving roles to the lead caucasian actors. We also see a black man in the role of the newscaster.
  3. Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film?
    This film was directed and produced by Barry Levinson, a caucasian man born in 1942. I believe his background does play a role in the film, especially because Stanley, a character who plays a producer in Wag the Dog, emphasizes on multiple occasions how a producer never gets credit for a film. Perhaps Levinson felt he did not receive enough credit for the films he produced. Since Levinson is caucasian, this could account for why he chose 3 caucasians to play the 3 lead roles of the film. It is also important to note that this movie was released a month prior to the Bill Clinton scandal with Monica Lewinsky, which caused many people to draw parallels between this film and a real-life sex scandal.
  4. What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class,gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?I believe Americans as a people at-large could be offended by this movie because it suggests they are an ignorant, gullible group of people. In this movie, Americans are easily persuaded by whatever they see on TV and never question the authenticity of it.
  5. What the movie added to your visual literacy?
    In terms of visual literacy, this film is causing me to question how I might be manipulated by media in my own life. When I think about the posts I see on Facebook and Instagram every day, I often see them and don't really question what people share or show. If someone posts a picture of them with their significant other looking happy, I believe they are happy and never think there might be more to the picture than what I see. At a larger scale, this is also true about what I see on TV and news sites. We often only see part of the story, but if something "looks" authentic and legit, I am apt to believe it is real without thinking much of it. I feel we only really question things that we know are meant and designed to persuade us, such as commercials and ads. For example, the people on the talk show in Wag the Dog suggest that the president wins re-election because of his "don't change horses mid-stream" commercial campaign. This frustrates Stanley because he actually persuaded people to re-elect the president in a way that he will never get credit for. Even in this Visual Literacy class, we are told to bring examples of ads to class that we know are specifically designed to persuade people. Why aren't we told to bring examples of news articles that might be designed with the attention to appear real but are actually forms of persuasion?
  6. What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
    The movie begins by directly addressing and explaining its own title: "Why does the dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog." This quote influences the direction of the entire film. There is a scene in the film when Stanley edits the film clip of the Albanian girl holding a cat in the village, and during this scene, an image of a dog's butt with the tail wagging appears on the screen. This visual choice is important because this is a moment when we see the characters manipulating footage in order to trick Americans into believing there is a real war in Albania. I also think it's critical how the director never shows the face of the president. This suggests that the president himself really doesn't have a face; rather, he is saving face by hiding behind the words and images that other people create on his behalf. Therefore, it makes sense for Stanley to say, "The president is a product." The president is something that has to be sold to the American people. I appreciate the ambiguity at the end of the film. When the news anchor announces that there has been an attack on Albania, it is unclear if there is a real war now or if this is still being faked. I assume it's real since the next scene shows an empty room, suggesting Conrad and his followers are done working behind the scenes.
  7. Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations (optional). Overall, I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it. I especially enjoyed one of Stanley's final lines, "It's the best work I've ever done in my life because it's so honest," referring to the funeral of Schumann. This is ironic on so many levels since there is nothing honest about the funeral to begin with. In this way, the movie is humorous without needing cheesy jokes or fake laughter. It is a more sophisticated type of humor which appeals to adults.