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Learning and teaching are a two-way street

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Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 3:38 pm

I have this habit of opening my mouth.

Sentinel managers make jokes about it, but not Lodi Boys and Girls Club executive director Eddie Cotton. He called me on it!

When are you going to start your journalism class at the club? — he asked me last month.

My what? I'm busy, Eddie. Did I say I'd do that?

Yes, said Eddie, it was your idea.

So with the help of Learning Link coordinator Cyndi Carter and editor Rich Hanner — who teaches mass communications at Delta College — I cobbled together a lesson plan — an hour-long presentation on how to post photos and short articles to the Internet.

Then on Thursday last week, I walked into my first classroom as "the instructor." There was a big-screen TV on the opposite wall and at a desk to the right was the teen advisor Margot Aguilar. Before I could ask her where the class was, 10 gregarious 13- to 18-year-olds rushed through the door from all corners of the Boys and Girls Club.

Some kidded with each other. Others politely introduced themselves. They were dressed in jeans, sneakers and t-shirts, and also sequined tops and polo and sweat shirts with college logos. Together they comprise the Lodi Keystone Club, a service club that meets daily after school at the Boys and Girls Club.

I asked them about their communication devices and, of course, they all have cell phones and Facebook accounts. Which is to say, they are all published authors.

Think about it.

If you post something on the Internet — say a comment on, a video on YouTube, your status on Facebook, it can been seen by everybody else with access to the World Wide Web.

You don't need an agent or an editor. No contract, no office, no training. Just punch "send" and you're published — a one-person news department.

So I'm hoping to help these youngsters master a few basic journalistic skills. 

But Rich warned me: "They'll teach you as much as you teach them."

That first class, I had them interview and then take photos of each other. We brainstormed some questions. I explained the necessity of getting people's names spelled correctly. And then they had a ball dreaming up poses for the camera.

Half of them used Margot's smart phone; the other half used my iPad.

When it was all over, I wondered out loud, "How do I e-mail these photos? I want you guys to send them back to me with a short caption."

"Here, Mr. Weybret," said Alex Osorio, grabbing my iPad. He tapped a button, selected a picture, typed in an e-mail address and the iPad made that jet plane sound. The photo was winging its way across the World Wide Web.

It was just like Rich said, they learn and I learn.

All weekend I waited for their photos and captions to appear in my inbox. By Monday, nothing. By Wednesday I was frantic. I called Margot. What's wrong? Why didn't they send their photos and captions?

The kids thought that's what we were going to do next time, she said.

Rich, what did I do wrong?

He asked if I'd set a deadline?

A what? Oh, yeah. We have those at the paper, don't we?

Another lesson learned.

I rewrote the lesson plan, created a little online tour of pictures and captions, but mostly I droned on and on about the questions a good writer answers for his or her audience when they write that little explanation below a photo.

Some of my students were nodding off. Others were talking to each other while I tried to make my points.

With 20 minutes to go, I was done. I needed to stretch things out.

I got an idea — a lesson I learned back in 1968 at Lodi High in Mrs. Vogler's speech class.

"You guys, if we're going to be better writers, we're going to have critique each other's work," I said. "Do you know how to criticize? You don't just tell somebody they're awful.

"A helpful criticism has three parts: 1) start with a compliment; 2) point to a specific thing that needs improvement; 3) give a suggestion for improvement."

They sort of perked up and one club member, Jacob Silva, suggested they practice. They got a kick out of picking on each other — in a very helpful way, of course. It was really funny. The lesson was working.

"Mr. Weybret," asked Jessica Leon. "Can we criticize you?"

All the chatter stopped, except for a hushed or titter. Sure, Jessica, of course. What can I do to improve?

"Mr. Weybret, you're a really nice guy but — you talk too much."

Now my class was really engaged in the lesson.

"You make good points but then you keep talking," said Jessica. "You should just make your point and then, and then — " she trailed off.

"Just shut up?" I offered.

"Well. Yes."

Like Rich said ... .