Things I Know 320 of 365: YouTube for Schools is here because schools couldn’t be bothered to learn

My first inclination is to praise the advent of YouTube for Schools. I want to say, “Finally, we can get the content to the classrooms.” And that is true. At least, it’s more likely.

I can’t say that without also pointing out it was easier for one of the world’s largest corporations to change content streams, test and market a new product, and launch it than it was for America’s schools to consider changing how they think about the Internet.

There’s a reason other nations are outperforming America in tests of thinking.

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Things I Know 131 of 365: If the thinking is good, I don’t care about citation

Old teachers never die, they just grade away.

– Unknown

Saturday, my mom graduates from her Master’s program.

Tonight, as we talked on the phone, she was checking her grades as they showed up online. She reported the points she’d earned on her assignments, and I logged in to my program’s website and looked at the points I’d earned in my last course.

We exchanged point information as badges of honor.

“I earned 388 of 390 points,” I said, “But, I lost those two points because of inconsistent APA citations.”

It’s true.

The less-than-perfect score with which I finished my last course was a result of formatting.

For a few entries on a list of works I’d referenced, I capitalized all of the first letters of the books’ titles rather than the first letter of only the first word as the American Psychological Association decrees.

In my defense, the books, themselves, had each first letter of each word capitalized.

While the Modern Language Association honors such formatting choices, the APA judges this level of capitalization as showy and ostentatious.

I remember when my score for that particular assignment came back to me with the notes from my instructor.

“The APA format of some entries need improvement.”

I was devastated.

It wasn’t for the reasons you’d think. Sure, my formatting was a bit off, but he’d scored my thinking as perfect.

In the last 30 years, I’ve had many thoughts. They’ve been varied in their depth and their breadth. Some were decent. Others were not so hot. I will admit now, not one single thought I’ve ever had has been perfect.

On that assignment and every other assignment for the course, I received perfect marks on my thinking and learning.

I began to worry I’d reached Maslow’s self-actualization, and it wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be.

There is, of course, at least one other possibility.

Given the portions of the assignment that had definite objective qualifiers, my instructor was able to give a less-than-perfect grade and feel justified in his thinking. There were standards, after all.

In the squishier, more subjective areas of the assignment where the quality of thinking, not the quality of writing or citation, was at question, leeway was abundant and doubt was given more benefit that it had earned.

I’m not saying I should have failed.

I earned an A for the course, and worked diligently for it.

My thoughts, though, were imperfect and should have been assessed as such. In some of my thinking, I was lazy. For some of my wording, I was imprecise. As each assignment unfolded, I learned such lackadaisical strategies would yield the same reward as strategies that were more detailed with both my language and my thinking.

I found the bar, sat atop it and never imagined what could be higher.

I’m working with my senior classes to help them practice their skills at close reading. Almost every day they analyze a piece of text for its linguistic, semantic, structural or cultural machinations.

It’s tough work and a skill to be refined.

As I assess their attempts, I’m tempted to give the same marks to  the “almost” answers as I would to the “exactly” answers.

I resist.

They can think more deeply.

They should think more deeply.

That will remain the skill I assess, and my standards will remain high.

If they cite their work with some strange bastardization of MLA and APA, I’ll be happy. So long as it’s thoughtful.

Youtube is killing my students[‘] [work]

The Gist:

  • My students created some amazing pieces of scholarly analysis using youtube.
  • The wider audience can never see it because of poorly-thought restrictions our systems and youtube’s systems have put in place.
  • It’s time for us to stop choosing ignorance over what it possible.

The Whole Story:

I’m actually supposed to be grading right now, but I’m angry, so I’m stopping.
I’m not even angry for the usual reasons.
My seniors completed what was their ultimate project of their English Studies at SLA.
The assignment was easy to explain:

  • Choose one of the top 10 most viewed youtube videos of all time.
  • Choose one of the six critical literary lenses (reader-response, gender, socioeconomic, new historicist, postcolonial, deconstructionist) we’ve explored over the last four years.
  • Apply that lens to the video and post it to youtube as a critical literary analysis.
  • For the created product, work in iMovie or use the annotation function of youtube.

The full project description can be seen here.

The work required them to utilize skills as readers, writers, and thinkers.
The problem, youtube – the algorithm, not the people – sees the work as a violation of copyright.
You would too, if you weren’t actually watching the videos to see what they actually are.
I wanted to make certain my thinking on this lines up with the legal requirements, so I went to Kristin Hokanson.
She said it all came down to two questions:

  1. Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?
  2. Was the amount and nature of material taken appropriate in light of the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?

She followed up with:
Fair use considers FOUR factors:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

In answer to the first question, yes. Rather than being a video for entertainment, the video is now a non-profit scholarly educational work. As for value, it’s the work of high school students. Some of the value is more, some of the value is less. Will any of these analyses break 1 million views? No.
In answer to the second question, yes. The students used all of the videos because they needed to show how the entirety of the text worked toward supporting their theses. In some cases, they augmented the work with outside slides in order to more fully make a point. Again, the idea here is for the viewer to experience the text concurrently with the analysis, pausing as needed to think more deeply. In the case of something like Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.,” I’m thinking this is a definite repurpose.
Realizing youtube would likely not discern between actual re-purposed non-profit educational work and a simple copy of the original work, I asked the students to submit their work as private videos and then share them with my account.
It was an attempt to keep their work authentic as well as alive.
For the most part, it worked. Then, students started coming in to class telling me their work had been taken down.
Let this be what I say:
For those who complain youtube is destroying culture or thought or any of the rest, this project re-purposed not only the videos, but the medium into a place for scholarly consideration of some of the most globally popular contemporary texts.
For those who argue the blocking of youtube in schools, look at this as a rudimentary example of what can happen when we empower students to think critically about and within online social spaces.
Many of the students worked diligently and thoughtfully on this assignment. If nothing else, they’re more thoughtful and aware of what they view and what it means for a text to be popular.
I’d show you this student work, but then youtube’d have to kill it.

I won’t be telling them what to think

The Gist:

  • My G11 students are reading The Great Gatsby.
  • After the choice afforded them in the last quarter, I can’t be every other English teacher.
  • We’re challenging the Academy and having numerous books vie for the title of Great American Novel.

The Whole Story:

Monday, I tweeted out the link to a simple questionnaire. It contains two statements: 1) What is the Great American Novel? 2) If you’d like to make your case, do it below.

My G11 students also received their copies of our latest class novel Monday. Maybe you’ve heard of a little book called The Great Gatsby? Apparently, it’s quite popular. In fact, many argue it qualifies as the GAN.

Narrowing down the results of the questionnaire, my classes will be pitting 8 contenders against one another. The final contender will face off against Gatsby.

I’ve written about this before. The original idea was to put Gatsby on trial for libel and slander against other novels. After consulting with many people whose thoughtfulness and opinions I greatly value, I was left with a sort of literary March Madness.

I won’t be walking my students through Gatsby. I won’t be indoctrinating them to the symbolism of that light at the end of that dock. I won’t be talking about the American dream or gender roles and the power of adhering to them.

Instead, I’ve given my students some simple instructions:

Read this book with the idea that you will either have to argue against its status as the GAN

or defend its standing as the GAN.

If the American dream and gender roles and symbolism are really key and keen in the text, they should pick up on them. If something else is there, they’ll pick up on that. Is the symbolism important because my teachers told me it was there or because it’s important? I want to start clean.

We’ve talked about some strategies for tracking their thinking. They can use the tried and true sticky notes. They can make a bookmark for each chapter where they track positives on one side and negatives on the other. They can take notes in a notebook. Turns out I don’t care.

They’ve until April 5 to finish.

During classes, they’ll frequently have time to read, about 20 minutes. Tomorrow, I’ll help them decide how to schedule their reading. They’ve 180 pages of 9 chapters and either 12 or 7 days depending on if they want to read over Spring Break. Their pace and rate are up to them.

During the remaining 2/3 of class, we’ll be debating and deciding the qualifiers of the GAN as well as practicing discreet reading and writing skills using other texts.

April 5, they’ll compile their notes, hand in their copies of Gatsby and find out which text they’ll be reading over the next two weeks. This will, be the text on whose behalf they’ll be arguing.

Rather than discussing qualifiers of the GAN, we’ll be using non-reading class time to examine literary lenses they can use to make their cases – Feminist, Marxist, Reader-Response, Postcolonial, Deconstructionist, New Criticism. Throw in some more discreet skills, and you’ve got a hopping time.

The results coming in on the questionnaire are backing my decision to head this direction with things. Largely, the texts suggested line up as canonical standards. It seems dead white guys were really in touch with how to write in a way that resonated with the American spirit.

My goal for this is not to have my students look at any of these texts as the GAN, but to look at these texts and ask why they hold the status they hold and then ask whether or not they deserve that status.

I’m curious to see what they think.

You’re probably asking, “Wow, Zac, that’s great. But, what can I do to help?”

Great question, you.

If you haven’t already, take about 2 minutes to complete the questionnaire and nominate your contender for GAN.

Starting Friday, we’ll be seeding the top 8, check back then to help fill out our brackets.

Oh, one other thing, talk about your nominee with someone. The conversations I’ve had in the last two days have definitely enriched my appreciation for literature. If nothing else, twitter’s seemed less monocultural for a day or two.

Important Words

The Gist:

  • What questions do you have?
  • Push my thinking.
  • Say more.

The Whole Story:

As it turns out, more than my habits of practice have been informed by the educators with whom I find myself interwebbed.

I’ve been mindful of this fact lately. The language I use whilst teaching and learning has evolved since my first days in the classroom. While I assume this change will continue as I continue, three phrases in particular have shaped who I am in the classroom. For two, I can point to their sources. The origin of the third is a partial mystery to me.

What questions do you have?

In my first two years of teaching, I was an 8th-grade Language Arts teacher at Sarasota Middle School in Sarasota, FL. If I gained nothing else from the experience, I garnered countless hours of professional development from in-house and contracted consultants. It was probably what the best student teaching experiences should be.

During one workshop with either Larry Biddle or Hal Urban – we’ll say Urban because I like him more – the room was asked, “When you ask your students, ‘Do you have any questions,’ how many of you see hands shoot into the air?” A brief poll of the audience showed the results to the question were worse than a teacher would hope.

“Try this,” he said, “instead, ask, ‘What questions do you have?'”

I have been ever since.

Push my thinking.

The summer after my second year of teaching, I moved from Sarasota Middle to Phoenix Academy. It was a new school working with a more varied population of students, and I wanted a challenge. Within a week of getting hired at Phoenix, then-principal Steve Cantees called and asked if I would take part in a pilot program the district was starting for 50 high school teachers in Sarasota. The NeXt Generation Teaching program (which has sense morphed to something else) lasted 2 years and brought David Warlick, Alan November, David Thornburg and others to Sarasota to work with that pilot group and give us the tools to see what was possible.

Without the NeXt Gen program, I wouldn’t be at SLA today. Without it, I wouldn’t have gone down the inexhaustible gopher hole of inquiry-project-experienctial learning that seems to be where my brain lives. For the purposes of this post, without the NeXt Gen program, I wouldn’t have found the phrase, “push my thinking.” Though I can’t speak to where he picked it up, I know I got the phrase from my first readings of Will Richardson.

The beauty of it lies in the phrase’s ability to put into pictures what I oftentimes feel happening in my brain or want for my students to feel as they learn. The lack of direction is also great. It’s not “pushed my thinking forward.” Value exists in pushing thinking backward or up or down or any other ordinal clarifier.

My awareness of the movement of my thinking is raised.

Say more.

The most recent, this sentiment is what I hope all my students are able to leave with the ability to do.

My friend Bud gave me this one. In fact, he offered it up in conversation over the course of about 2 years before I realized its value. In my oftentimes fervent explanation of an idea, I will come to the end of my pontification with the assumption my zeal has relayed all that needs be said about an idea.

In conversations with Bud, my conclusions are often met with, “Say more.”

By asking me to say more, Bud has the added effect of pushing my thinking and asking me to examine what questions I have about my own ideas. He’s never asking me to talk more.

Having incorporated this into my practice, I’ve started seeing the same self-inquisical looks on the faces of my students I remember feeling when I was asked to do the same thing I’m asking them to do. I’m not posing a new question, I’m asking them to answer the initial question – more.

I want everyone in my life to do this.