September 13, 2006

Why I am bringing dramamine to class on Friday

I know that when it's time to assign a formal paper, it's fairly typical for a composition teacher to hand out specific essay topics, but I don't always do that. I prefer that my students go through the painful process of figuring out their own topics. After all, they've already read eleven essays, written five short response papers, and discussed all kinds of ideas in class. It's the third week of the semester. By now, each one of them ought to have something to say.

Besides, I tell them, college is not high school. From now on, they need to come up with topics on their own. It's more like real life. In real life, an English teacher does not appear in the clouds and hand you essay topics.

We walked through the brainstorming process today – coming up with a whole blackboard full of ideas. By the end of the class, many of the students were coming up with paper topics and scribbling them down. Stealing a phrase from Julie, I told them I expected them to bring an elevator pitch to class on Friday. As Julie explained over on her blog, an elevator pitch is an overview that can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, say thirty seconds or less.

Hollywood loves the elevator pitch. Through some twist in the plot, the underdog gets into an elevator with some important person, and he's got thirty seconds to convince Important Person that his idea is brilliant. We don't see the whole thirty seconds, we simply hear the first ten words, and then we cut to the next scene: the underdog walking out of the elevator with a triumphant smile. Oh, that's not the end of the movie, because always there is some love triangle that further complicates the plot, but that is the essence of the elevator pitch.

My students loved my dramatic explanation -- it's possible I included way more of the movie plot than I strictly needed to -- and I figured elevator pitch sounded way cooler than thesis statement.

But then my mid-morning class decided to be literal about the whole thing.

"Okay, let's actually do it on the elevator."

"WHAT?" I said. I hate elevators; they know this about me.

"Sure," one kid said, "We can all fit on the elevator."

"Let's do them on the elevator!" everyone started chiming in. My students never miss an opportunity to tease me.

"I hate riding the elevator!" I said. "I'm claustrophic. I get motion sick."

"We will help you face your fears, " Curly Hair said, in the kind of fake calm voice that these kids have heard their whole lives. "We are here for you. Remember, in a writing class, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable."

"You're all crazy," I said. "Why would we want to stand all crowded together in a box that moves up and down? How does that even make sense?"

"It'll be more realistic," said Dark-haired Woman.

"YOU ARE NUTS IF YOU THINK I AM GOING INTO AN ELEVATOR WITH ALL OF YOU."

"I'm asking you to challenge yourself," said Curly Hair, still in the fake teacher voice.

I tried to glare at him, but his imitation of me was too funny. I had to laugh.

They left happily chatting about their paper topics and assuring me that on Friday, they were going to help me face my fear of the elevator. I think they are kidding. I mean, I am pretty sure they don't really want to do these on the elevator.

But I am thinking I should have just called it a thesis statement.

35 comments:

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Oh no! Hoist by your own petard!

ppolarbear said...

dramanine, baby, dramanine.

Jane Dark said...

Man, I wish I had an elevator in my classrooms. Wait. I think I might this quarter!

But it won't be as cool unless my students come up with the idea themselves.

I've always used the phrase "Hollywood hook;" it's nice to know what the technical term is.

Good luck.

Linda (FM) said...

Take the dramamine. I'd bet you're going for a ride or two.

Shelly said...

I don't like elevators either, and I totally am comfortable with calling it a thesis statement.

Good luck on Friday!

Gord said...

On the good side...

You know they were listening to you!

Seeking Solace said...

Don't forget crackers!!! Hang in there!!!

Dr. Mon said...

Too cute. Umm--hang in there?

kathy a said...

sounds like you are going for a ride with 10 or 20 of your newest best students at a time! they'll be busy talking, and you'll be busy listening. no problem. [but the crackers aren't a bad idea.]

or -- maybe you could make it an in-class thing with a timer. spice it up by asking everyone to bring food to share. food always works.

molly said...

Sounds like they done got you good. Have a nice trip. Eat a little something before you go.

elswhere said...

This is so funny!

Maybe you could scrounge up a refrigerator box and create a faux elevator in the classroom?

Lilian said...

Well, the best of luck! Your students are funny (and smart).

Kyla said...

That's great! I wouldn't doubt their resolve. :) You might just be in an elevator on Friday.

kabbage said...

Ginger snaps are good for motion sickness, too. If you have Trader Joe's, I recommend their Triple Ginger Snaps. Yum!

Journey Mama said...

That's hilarious. I can really hear that fake calm voice.

jm said...

I totally hope they do their elevator pitches in the elevator. Sorry for _you_, because of the sickies, but I think the idea is a hoot.

Arbitrista (formerly Publius) said...

Ba ha ha ha!

Scrivener said...

In real life, an English teacher does not appear in the clouds and hand you essay topics. You know, I think you've hit on one of the fundamental flaws with this "real life" thing.

I wanted to say the exact same thing as Pilgrim above, but I'm way too slow and she's so quick.

Cats & Dogma said...

Heh, heh. Doncha just hate it when the student outdo you for creative pedagogy? At least they know what'll keep them motivated!

And by the way, doesn't everyone's dissertation advisor appear to them in dreams telling them what their nex project should be, and how it's already inadequate? Hunh...I thought that happened to all PhDs

Bardiac said...

Actually, except for your personal pain, this sounds like a great idea!

Sort of like having committee meetings standing up: it would be unpleasant, but I can think of a few people who might focus a bit more effectively (me, too!).

It's telling how much our students have picked up on certain academic mantras, and how false they can seem coming back to us.

(My word verification is "fufqpd." I think Blogger is trying to tell me something!)

Aliki2006 said...

Hmmmm...de-lurking to say I like the "elevator pitch" idea--I'd never thought of that way of explaining it before. I'm not a fan of the real-life practice of it, though--I feel your pain!

Yankee, Transferred said...

Sorry, but my money's on the elevator ride.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Yeah, I'll bet that more than a few of these students are really going to want to ride the elevator with you. I love your students.

It would be really funny if someone else tried to ride the elevator to get anywhere.

sheepish said...

Now you know to call it a "stairway pitch" next year. At least after that class you'd have killer calves.

Erin said...

Check the weight limit. That could be your out.

YourFireAnt said...

Jo(e), you can turn the tables on them, and at the same time take back the podium, so to speak, by having a lottery. Put the names of all the students present into a hat or something. Then have someone pick the "winner". That person gets to give her pitch in the elevator. That way you only go down/up once.

FA

Colleen said...

Don't take the dramamine.
Throw up on someone.
And it will be the last time you ever have to do that.
Also, I'm sure one of the kids will pick Reasons Not to Face Your Fear as a paper topic.

Marie said...

I'm thinking that your lessons stuck with them really well. That's a good thing, right? Get on the elevator, woman. But I think YFA has the right idea.

Bridget said...

this is so funny! good luck and let us know ow it goes!

Rana said...

*laughs*

I have to admit that Colleen's suggestion to just go ahead and barf occured to me, too.

(This reminds me of one time I told my students it was okay for them to call me by my first name... so of course I was talking to the Dean when one of them, a big crazy looking dude (who was a great guy - loved having him in class), ambled by and said "Yo, R - how's it hanging?" as he passed us. *forehead in hand*)

Joy ~ aka Wild Child said...

Okay, I have to chime in here! First, I have to say I just graduated college in May...returned to college after 15 years away...so, I feel I'm on both sides of this...the student but now just an observer! LoL

Second, I WAS going say just about what YourFireAnt said. It just goes to show, if you think you should post, you should...I almost posted before saying the best essay would be given the Elevator job. (of course you'd have had a problem of reading them first, wish defeats the purpose of them delivering them...

Third and last, getting back to my recent experience of classroom student...ehemmm (do I have the floor? Haha HA!) I had wonderful teachers who were funny and personable. This would have ranked right up their for me. What fun! Go for a ride...maybe three names drawn out of the hat. More changes for the students to get the prize. Of course make these the last three presenters.

Have fun tomorrow!
ECT

liz said...

Make them read a copy of your post about meeting Scrivener before they make you do it.

But yeah, I think you're gonna be going up and down tomorrow.

Heather said...

So how'd it go?

Kyla said...

Did they make ya do it? :)

jo(e) said...

Well, luckily, I am not the only one in the class who gets motion sickness and hates elevators. So when they clamored to go into the elevator on Friday, a few students chimed in and protested that it would make them sick too. And the elevator in the building *is* pretty small. And I don't think they really did want to see me vomit.

So we did elevator simulations instead, complete with all the elevator noises. I was pleased with the elevator pitches. The students did a great job getting their ideas into a sentence or two.