Click photo to see video “Don’t Laugh At Me”
Four years ago my class of fourth graders was struggling. After almost every recess there was anger and tears about teasing and exclusion from games. We spent too much time in class dealing with these issues (at least too much time during that early era of test prep fever). We had been using the curriculum we had downloaded from Peter Yarrow’s – Don’t Laugh At Me web site, so they had seen the video that came with that. They felt they could do a better job and work on getting along with each other at the same time … so we did. We read Crow Boy and The Brand New Kid and others. We wrote every line from the song on separate pieces of chart paper and taped them up around the room. We discussed what each line and word meant, and brainstormed in small groups and then whole class how to act out each line.
Next, each group was randomly assigned a line to act out. They had to decide who in their group would act out each part, decide on props and location and repeatedly act it out for the rest of the class to be critiqued. We learned the song, because we were going to record ourselves singing it – but the students did not like how it was going. Someone suggested we just use the recording of Peter Yarrow singing it – that led to a discussion of copyright law (since they wanted it posted on the internet) and how artists don’t own the rights to their own music. They asked me what it would hurt to ask … so I emailed Peter’s representative … and to make a long story short the next day we heard back that we had permission if Peter could see it first.
We shot the video – while still doing other activities to work out our “issues” – and sent a VHS copy to New York. Several weeks later we heard back that Peter had shown it at a conference in Atlanta and it had brought him to tears (he later recounted that story with the class over a conference call). When Apple Computer wanted to use it we had to get permission from the song writers – Steve Seskin and Sony Records signed off as did Allen Shamblin and his record company (later that spring Steve Seskin visited our school and sang to the school and came to my classroom for a short discussion with my class).
I have no idea how many times our video has been viewed, but over the years I have sent copies to schools and libraries in 20 states, Korea the Phillipines and The Discovery Channel.
So did our bullying problems disappear as a result? Yes … er no … well both. They got tremendously better and when we had a bad spate of attitude, even when they were in my sixth grade class … the video would always come up and we would end up talking about why we made it and much more often than not the air would be cleared and we would have at least a a day or so of attitude adjustment.
I see some of these students from time to time (they are now eighth graders) and they always ask if the video is still online or tell me about seeing it recently.
One of my best memories however was that any time we would show the video in class … even when they were big, hormone-ized, attitudinal sixth graders – about 2 bars into the song – it would start out low and then build to a sing-a-long – the class would sing and when the video faded out it would be quiet and faint smiles to grins would illuminate most faces in the room.
When this class was in fifth grade (I rolled with them to fifth and then sixth) our local PBS station asked us to make a 60 second public service announcement about racial diversity – here is a link to “Being Different Is A Solution, Not A Problem.”
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