A-Ha

Do you trick your students?

I’m not referring to magic tricks. Although being able to wave a wand could come in handy. Also:

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Keep Calm and Ask to be Put in Hufflepuff

Ahem.

At any rate, what I mean by trick is that sometimes I take a circuitous or backdoor route into getting them to see/understand something that I want them to see/understand. To some extent, this seems like a fairly obvious thing to do, but I’ve only recently started to think about how/why it works.

For their first longer paper this semester, my students have to write a scene analysis. They’ve written shorter papers this semester that require them to analyze readings, we’ve verbally done analyses in class on the documentaries we’ve watched, and, of course, I know that analysis is part of their daily lives in a variety of ways. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll (initially) recognize the abundance of skills that they already have and apply them usefully to their essays.

So last week, we looked at a sample student essay, and I had them analyze a first draft and a final draft, looking particularly at the structure of the analysis, claims, evidence, etc. They discussed their findings with partners, and we also had a larger group discussion. As expected, they did a great job at finding places that needed improvement in these sample essays, and they were able to articulate specifically how/why the arguments didn’t work (or didn’t work as well as they could). Also, they really seemed to enjoy being able to rip apart some stranger’s essay.

Them: 😈

To pull the strands together, as we approached the end of class, I pointed out how well they’d done and how they clearly had a good sense of what worked and what didn’t in writing. And then I hit them with the: “Of course, now the trick is to remember and do all of these things in your own essays .”

Also them: 😏

Here’s the thing. I know that I’m not the first person to talk to them about this stuff, and they even had a reading on the subject for class last week (which, as we all know, some of the probably definitely didn’t read). But there’s a difference between having that information and applying it (or even realizing that you have it hanging out in your brain somewhere). However, I think that there’s a real chance that what we worked on that day will stick in their minds simply because they realized that they already knew how to do the thing I want them to do, and now all they have to do is do it.

(say that sentence 5 times fast)

Their essays are due in a week, so we’ll see how it goes, but based on the conversations we had in class, I’m cautiously optimistic.

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Interlude

The past two weeks have been…a lot…which is perhaps putting it mildly. I find it a little bit difficult to concentrate on any of the things I’m supposed to be concentrating on (research, writing, teaching, etc) when the current state of the world is basically

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Dumpster Fire

Nevertheless, we carry on. It helps to have truly supportive friends and family. I know I’m not alone in what I’m feeling, and most of the folks I know are out in these streets (literally) trying to make the world better. That gives me strength. My students give me motivation. My research gives me peace (this may be a weird thing to say, but I research TV, and there are few things I enjoy more than being able to spend quality time with my TV). I’ve also been reading a lot more this semester. I try to get in at least 5 hours per week. All of this reading is outside of whatever reading I’m doing for teaching and research (though some of it is academic in nature). I’m currently working on Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which is a heavy read (both literally and figuratively) but also a great read and extremely informative.

I guess I don’t have a lot to say about teaching today. The class is still going well. I love hearing my students’ ideas and responses in relation to the documentaries we’re watching. Last week, for example, we had an expansive conversation on the heels of watching The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975, and it seemed like the documentary really spoke to some of them (perhaps more than some of the other documentaries we’ve watched this semester). Some of them expressed to me how much they didn’t know about the subject before watching, which wasn’t necessarily surprising to me and which also reaffirmed my confidence in the films I’ve selected for the rest of the semester.

On the upside of everything, it’s Friday, and ya gotta get down on Friday, right? (shout out to Rebecca Black)

P.S. By “get down,” I mostly mean sleep.

Step By Step

One of the readings my students had to complete this week was the introduction to Tonny Krijnen and Sofie Van Bauwel’s Gender and Media: Representing, Producing, Consuming. I assigned this reading served a couple different purposes. For one thing, given that I’m teaching a documentary class, I want them to be thinking about how media works, how it influences culture and is influenced by culture, etc. Additionally, one of the questions that we’re grappling with this semester is “What does it mean to represent?” In any media class that I’m teaching, this would always be a point of interest, but for this particular class, given the documentary’s general presumed status as “authentic,” “true,” and “real,” it’s a question that I want them to really take into consideration.

The other purpose that I had in choosing this reading is also tied to the issue of representation. My section of this course is focused on Crime, Justice, and Power, and as such, the documentaries that we’re viewing are often dealing with pretty heavy issues. As we’re grappling with those issues, I want them to consider who and/or what is being represented, how they’re being represented, what affects those representations, etc. Gender is one of the many spheres in which we’ll be considering these matters. And thus, this reading, which is only about 10 pages long, provided them with an accessible crash course in the theory and history of gender studies with a few relevant examples.

I’m always a little bit wary of how things like this are going to go over, especially in classes that aren’t marked as like CLASS ABOUT GENDER. Despite the trepidation, I’ve been lucky enough to have positive results in most cases, and this time was one of those positive experiences. Along with completing the reading, students also had to turn in what I call “Critical Reading Responses.” They only have to do this for a handful of readings in this class (from a student perspective, I always found it weary and tedious when we had to write a response paper for every single reading, and I do not wish to inflict that upon myself or my students). I pulled from several different response essay assignments that I saw on the internet in creating the assignment. The gist is that they’re reading closely and carefully and then writing a responses that clearly demonstrates their understanding of the text and ability to analyze while including some key components, such as a quote that stood out to them, a new concept that they were introduced to in the reading, etc.

Thus far, they’ve only done this assignment once, so I can’t speak to how well it will always work, but I was really pleased by what they turned in for this reading. They conveyed a willingness to engage with the material in ways that might not always be expected. Additionally, they were very forthcoming about their familiarity (or lack thereof) with the material. Despite what folks might think about the internet making all of these topics common knowledge, I found that many of my students expressed unfamiliarity with the ideas that gender and sex are different, that gender is a continuum, that gender is performative, etc. But even though they were unfamiliar, they were open to learning and intrigued by the prospects. And even when they sometimes expressed disagreement with certain points from the reading, they were still pretty open to the possibilities.

Now I pretty much always think my students are the best students in the world because I’m highkey biased, but I don’t think they’re unicorns. I think that we can bring new and important concepts to students and have them be received. I also think that sometimes these things will fall flat, and we have to know that, to quote Pink, “Sometimes it be’s like that” (shout out to the year 2000). But we keep trying because it’s important, and I don’t think there’s been a day in recent memory that crystallized that more clearly for me than today. As Maya Angelou would advise, I know better, so I’m doing better, and I hope you all are too ✌🏾

(P.S. If you read the title of this entry, and started singing the Step by Step theme song, we should probably be best friends)

Recovering Writing

Today is the fifth day of the new semester, and in a couple of hours, my students and I will be embarking on our third class meeting in which we will be tackling our first documentary (The Thin Blue Line for anybody who happens to be curious). I’m always, always excited to teach, but I’m especially excited to teach on days in which we’re discussing film and/or television shows because that is my jam. That’s what I do in my own work, and I love being able to open that up to students who often don’t know  (like I didn’t know when I was an undergrad) that this is something that has value, something that they can build a life on. In fact, we spent part of class during our second meeting discussing the importance of pop culture in our lives. On the short list of things that I’d like them to take away from this class (ok the list isn’t really that short, but still), I want them to understand how pop culture is intrinsically intertwined with our culture more broadly.

The other significant focus of our second class meeting was discussing writing. Though my class is one that is centered on documentaries, it is also a second year writing course. Throughout the semester, my students will be composing several different writing assignments, and I thought it necessary to both remind them of that component of the class and to see where their heads were at about writing.

When I asked how many people enjoyed writing, the raised hands were unsurprisingly few and far between. I’m not the first to say this (in fact, John Warner was tweeting about this yesterday: https://twitter.com/biblioracle/status/819534603165831168), but I think school often does ruin writing for students. It makes writing something that is wholly unenjoyable and uninspired, which is something that I intend to try to work against in my class. One of my colleagues mentioned a few days ago that one of his students said they had a teacher who dock them for the very particular way the essay was stapled.

For. The. Way. It. Was. Stapled. Y’all.

*Headdesk*

This is why, when I asked my students to write down something that they knew or believed about writing (inspired by this post: https://jcmadams.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/in-class-activity-what-we-know-about-writing/), I wasn’t surprised by answers like “Writing is tedious and time-consuming.” At some point, writing, particularly “academic writing,” all too easily becomes a series of hoops to jump through and requirements to check off without being emphasized as a valuable process, a useful means of expression, a creative outlet (yes, even the academic stuff), etc. So one of my goals this semester? Counter that. Counter it aggressively. Wish me luck, eh?

(And if you have any handy tips or suggestions, feel free to send them my way)

A Fresh Start

On Monday, classes begin again at my university. Winter break is always one of the most confusing times for me in terms of keeping track what day it is, and I’m always a little bit surprised by how the new semester sneaks up on you. That being said, I feel pretty good about my preparation this time around. Generally speaking, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do in the classroom, but this time I kicked it into high gear. In addition to getting the syllabus done (huzzah!), I also wrote out lesson plans for each day I’ll be teaching this semester. Some of these plans are more detailed than others, and more info will be added/things may be rearranged as the semester proceeds, but generally speaking, I have a good idea of what I’ll be doing each day.

I did this for a couple different reasons. First, I’ve done it before (though admittedly not as thoroughly as I did it this semester), and I realized that taking some time in the beginning to figure it out will really save me time in the long run (I think all those unit plans I had to do in secondary ed really did a good job of making me think about the long game). The other big reason is that I’m starting my dissertation this semester (well…theoretically), and I have various other writing projects  that I’ll be working on throughout the semester as well. Planning my teaching ahead allows me to spend more time throughout the semester focused on my writing. It also frees up more time for when I need to assess student work. I also went ahead and wrote out all of the assignment prompts. In the past, I’ve typically had some done when the semester started and written others as the we progressed through the semester. But knowing that it usually takes me a while to write the prompts, I just went ahead and got that out of the way as well.

And so, leaning into this new semester, I’m feeling perhaps a little less harried than usual. I’m actually extra excited for next week’s classes because I know what we’ll be doing, and I think they’re going to be awesome days (Is my idealism showing? hmm). I’m teaching a documentary class this semester, and I’m really looking forward to digging into the assortment of films I’ve chosen (talk about your difficult choices…) with my students. Annnnd they’re going to be making their own documentaries this semester, which is the sort of thing that, when I added it to the syllabus, both made me slightly nervous and super happy ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to getting started!

Endings

A few weeks ago, the semester wrapped up at my university. Our schedule was often broken up by a variety of holidays in those final class meetings (and at least one wayward fire alarm), but my students persevered, worked extremely hard, and produced some great transmedia projects. On the last day of class, we held a showcase in which I’d invited various people from the department to come check out the projects. And lest one thinks I’m biased about the awesomeness of my students because they’re my students, the feedback was markedly positive. Admittedly, there were definitely moments when I was unsure what the end results of this project might look like, but those kids rose to the occasion, and I’m definitely going to miss them after spending a great semester together talking about television and digital media. For anybody interested in seeing some of their work, you can click here, here, and here (heads up: as is often the case with transmedia, some of these sites include hidden things that you have to find as the user).

As 2016 comes to a bitter (B-I-T-T-E-R) end, and despite having such a great semester, I can’t help but be ready for this year to be over (though I’m not especially optimistic that next year will be any better). That being said, as we barrel toward the rapture end of the year, I’m inclined to reflect on the actual good things that happened this year. So here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

  • I fulfilled some childhood dreams by going to see WWE Raw.
  • I successfully participated in a hot sauce eating contest (LIKE A BOSS).
  • I got to go to Seattle for the first time.
  • I got to meet Aja Monet.
  • I finished course work.
  • My husband and I celebrated 6 years together (2 of which we’ve been married for).
  • I went to Wisconsin for an awesome wedding with some great friends.
  • My life was blessed by getting to see Queen Bey in concert again.
  • My adorable godson was born.
  • I got to watch #BlackGirlMagic run roughshod over the Olympics.
  • I went to Florida for another awesome wedding with some other great friends.
  • An adorable new baby cousin was born.
  • I got better at organization and planning (though this is still a work in progress).
  • Relatedly, I passed my comprehensive exams.
  • I got accepted to present at SCMS next year.
  • I affirmed my commitment to pedagogy.
  • I continued to grow in my understanding and embodiment of both scholarship and activism.
  • I finally got the chance to play video games again (shout out to Mafia 3).
  • Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, the Hamilton Mixtape, and Bruno Mars all gave me music for survival.
  • Movies like Deadpool, Moonlight, Almost Christmas, Loving, Rogue One, Zootopia, Civil War, Ghostbusters, and Moana kept me at the movie theaters semi-regularly.
  • In addition to all the shows that I already loved, new shows like Pitch, Queen Sugar, Greenleaf, Insecure, and Wynonna Earp made me really happy (this part of the list is not comprehensive at all, but I have to stop somewhere lol).
  • I got to eat a LOT of fantastic food.
  • I became closer to some of the relatively newer friends in my life, and let go of some things/people that weren’t enriching my life.

Alright, that’s it for this year (*fingers crossed*). See y’all next year when I’ll be back to talk about the documentary class I’m teaching ✌🏾

Meta Meta Meta

When I last posted, my students were preparing to submit their podcasts. I’m happy to report that they did exceedingly well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any concerns going into the assignment. This semester is the first time I’ve taught a digital media class as well as the first time I’ve taught a college level course that isn’t essay based. To that end, I’ve had to recalibrate the ways that I think about assessment in certain ways, which has been useful. I know that sometimes students can be somewhat resistant to doing assignments that are outside the norm, but I haven’t really felt that type of resistance in this class. Perhaps, since it’s specifically labeled as a digital media class, the buy in was there from the start. Though I could also see the projects we’ve worked on in this class being utilized in other non-digital media specific classes, and that’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about in the future.

Honestly, one of the most useful components to our class this semester (at least to me) has been the class blog. Each week, the students are required to write blog posts that reflect on/respond to/analyze the subject matter, class readings, discussions, and their experiences working on their projects. I know that blogs can garner somewhat tepid responses from both students and teachers for a variety of good reasons, but I think the class has grown into the blog for the most part. And I’ve especially enjoyed reading their thoughts about their experiences of composing podcasts. I’m fairly confident that I could never get them to say as much in class as what many of them wrote on the blog, which is fine, but because they did write about those experiences, I have a good sense of what worked well (and what didn’t) with the project as well as what they’re taking of away from it. And I just find that really valuable since it’s not always clear, despite our best intentions and objectives, what students are truly gaining from assignments. I think that I’ll likely tweak the blog assignment in future classes, but it’s definitely a component that I’ve found productive enough to be retained.

This week, we shifted our focus to transmedia and their final projects, which will be digital transmedia extensions. This final project will (ideally) synthesize everything they’ve learned about digital media composing in this class. And I’ve added a public showcase component to give them more presentation experience as well as a more concrete audience. This is my excited face  😛