This is for
the ones who believe a music video can be a text that can be read, examined, and interrogated
the ones who know and witness the immense brilliance of their students
the ones who seek ways to connect and empower students through dialogue and debate
the ones who have learned a thing or two about art of life and life of art from their students
This past weekend Donald Glover who also performs under the name Childish Gambino hosted and was the musical guest on the show Saturday Night Live. In case you missed it, he also dropped a music video titled This Is America. See the entire video below:
At the time of writing this post, it has been viewed 42,059,643 times on YouTube. It has also confirmed for his longtime fans that his talent is limitless and this video is finally giving him larger spotlight in matters of culture. Even if you view it once, the juxtaposition of content and tone alone in this video can last an entire hour’s worth of class discussion. But there is more, there is symbolism, satire, and symmetry in this work of the highest caliber. As a service to other English teachers, I wanted to capture some of the cultural discussion around this video that have circulated in the media, in case, you or a colleague of yours wanted to bring this video as a point of discussion in your classroom. This video is probably suitable for high school students (ages 13+) but you know your students better than anyone else. See an (in)complete list below of relevant resources below:
Doreen St. Félix, staff writer at the New Yorker writes, “There is an inescapable disdain sewn into the fabric of “This Is America.” The very fact that the dance scenes are already being chopped into fun little GIFs online, divorcing them from the video’s brutality, only serves to prove his point.”
In this piece by Mahita Gajanan, it is noted “the use of so many famous dance moves show how ultra-popular pieces of culture lose their specificity over time as they become more ubiquitous.”
Round up from The New York Times offers some of the most concise commentary on this work in the present moment.
Teachers aren’t waiting for resources, check out this tweet below, I would love to see the lesson used in it.
Some student products from the #ThisisAmerica lesson Plan I came up with for today. Looked for figurative language, literary devices. We annotated and analyzed symbols in the music video. @donaldglover @chrisemdin #HipHopEd pic.twitter.com/3WTpqEk47I
— Nat Akery (@ladyakery) May 7, 2018
I’d love to hear and learn from you if you plan on using #ThisIsAmerica in your classroom. Let me know if you end up using any of the readings included above. Thanks!
On Friday May 5th, I woke up to Junot Diaz trending on Twitter. My first thought was that he had been honored with a new award or finally, there was some news about his next book, or perhaps he had maybe given an interview following his heart-wrenching piece on in the New Yorker about being raped as a child.
Instead the first tweet I read that morning about Junot Diaz actually came from acclaimed author, Zinzi Clemmons:
As a grad student, I invited Junot Diaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature. I was an unknown wide-eyed 26 yo, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. I'm far from the only one he's done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.
— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) May 4, 2018
Every sector of society has been rocked by the powerful and brave voices of women coming forth via the #metoo movement. It should not surprise me at all that world of writing is also full of problematic treatment of women and for so long these voices were not heard. But this time, Diaz felt different from some of the other prominent men whose true selves have been revealed to us, from Charlie Rose, Louis CK, and Kevin Spacey.
Diaz felt different because not only had I been touched by his work and writing but I had made a concerted effort to introduce my former students to his work.
For several years, I taught my 12th grade students his first published work, a collection of short stories called Drown. I was proud to introduce my students to a contemporary, male, Latino author who wrestled with ideas of identity, masculinity, vulnerability, and fragility of life and human relationships in his work. It was the first time many of my students saw their home languages on the pages of a book assigned for a school course. Junot Diaz’s rising fame and recognition by numerous awards from the Pulitzer to the MacArthur Genius grant further affirmed my belief that his work was belonged on my syllabus.
Moreover, I was even more proud of my students. Because even then, we as a class grappled with issues of representation and treatment of women in his work. We wrestled with the idea of being a tour guide for a culture via one’s writing and whether Diaz doing that or not.
Nonetheless, it was my choice and not one made by my students to spend time with his work. I can’t help but feel that I have subjected my students to an awful experience in the name of great writing and including voices of diverse authors in our classroom. Much like this professor who shared in this tweet, I too feel like I’ve made my students especially female students, “spend time in the head space of awful men — to listen to them confess/justify mistreatment that surely they’ve experienced.”
For this I am deeply sorry, my former students may not ever read this post but it was important for me to pause and reflect on what these revelations about Junot Diaz are forcing me to consider. If you’re looking for alternative to Junot Diaz on your own syllabus, consider these Latina authors:
And many others. Let me know in comments how you’re dealing with the Junot Diaz story.
created using Adobe Spark
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Quote via Marcus Aurelius
Lindy Johnson is an Assistant Professor of English Education and Co-Director for the Center for Innovation in Learning Design at William and Mary. She earned an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education from The University of Georgia. Prior to pursuing her doctorate, I taught high school English in Boston Public Schools. My research interests include new and digital literacies, teacher education, design based research, and critical discourse analysis.
Minecraft Edu Hackjam was a pre-event at the 2017 Games 4 Change Conference. According to advance material, the goal of the hackjam was to “convene 50 educators, designers, and Minecraft mentors to make subject-area curriculum relevant, immersive, and impactful for all students. Based on each group’s strength and interest, participants will turn their expertise into Minecraft: Education Edition lesson plans to be used by educators around the world.”
One of the coolest things about participating in the Minecraft Edu Curriculum Hackjam was the opportunity to co-design learning experiences with young people. I’ve had the opportunity to lead a lot of workshops with and for teachers; many times I suggest bringing students into the mix, but this idea rarely gets traction. So, I was super happy that my friend, Meenoo Rami, not only invited me to this event, but encouraged me to bring young people I knew who were avid Minecraft players. Luckily, I just happen to live with two such young people: Anders (age 12) and Willem (age 9) have both played Minecraft for a number of years. And, keeping with the spirit of collaboration, Anders is joining me in co-authoring this blog post. You can read his thoughts below.
We began the hackjam with a brief overview of what Minecraft is and why teachers might want to use it. Meenoo emphasized that Minecraft was one tool in a teacher’s toolbox. We then had the chance to start playing around in the Minecraft Education Edition (which has some different features than vanilla Minecraft). As a clueless novice Minecraft player, I was grateful for the guided tutorial that taught me how to move forward, backward, and side-to-side. I also learned how to break blocks, stack blocks, swim, and craft. Even though it sounds simple, I needed help with a few skills (like how to pull down levers). If you think that young people are being dumbed down by video games, I encourage you to go and try to learn a new game. The struggle is real. Alternatively, read Gee’s book, What Video Games Can Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.
After we completed the tutorial, Meenoo asked us to divide into groups based on our content expertise and then presented us with an open-ended challenge: Create a lesson plan that utilizes the unique affordances of Minecraft: Education Edition to teach a common topic, standard, or lesson in your classroom.
My group quickly determined that we wanted to create a lesson that any teacher with limited Minecraft expertise could use. We also wanted to be sure that the lesson we created directly met a variety of English and History standards. We decided to choose a topic that is sometimes difficult to get students excited about: the U.S. Constitution. Our group had a great mix of Minecraft experts (including Anders, and a preservice teacher, Chris) and experienced teachers. We quickly began brainstorming ideas and came up with the idea to create a simulation in Minecraft where students could experience what it would be like to be in a society without rules. We called our lesson “Why Do We Need Rules?: Introducing the U.S. Constitution through Minecraft.” The “hook” of our lesson included a mini game. Students are divided into five teams. The goal of the game is to find as many diamonds as possible in Minecraft. Students have 10 minutes to get those diamonds by any means. The idea is that students will quickly learn why rules can be helpful. Chris and Anders created a video walk through of the mini game here.
I’d never created curriculum with young people before, so I wasn’t sure how the process would play out. In retrospect, I was surprised by how easy it was for us all to collaborate. The young people helped us make connections and think through how to connect academic content to Minecraft in ways that I never would have thought of. Having youth at the table also created opportunities to engage in rapid prototyping of our lesson plan activities. For example, we asked Anders “what would happen if we just let people roam around the world we created? Would chaos ensue?” His answer “oh yeah!” Anders was able to use his knowledge and expertise in Minecraft to help us anticipate what might work and what might not work in the lesson really quickly. Often as teachers, we plan what we think are beautiful lessons, but don’t often get feedback from students until after we have taught the lesson. The Hackjam used a completely different process. As Nikomo, a teacher in our group said, “There’s no way we could have created this lesson without Anders.”
Even though we spent about 3 hours designing the lesson plan, it didn’t feel like work; it felt like play. The joy of creating something together with young people was really fun, and it’s something I hope that I get to do more of in the future.
Here’s Anders take on the day’s events:
When I first learned about this program I thought it would be a fun way to associate Minecraft with education and I was very excited for the future with that. I wasn’t sure if I would stay [at the hackjam] the entire time because I didn’t know what to expect. Before we entered the workshop people were not shy to say hello and interact and we already had many developing friendships. We went into the classroom and first learned what Minecraft was in summary form and then Meenoo said that she sees Minecraft as one of the tools in a teacher’s toolbox and can’t be used to solve every problem. Next we did a tutorial on Minecraft Education Edition, which has some features taken out and some new features to help teachers to be able to control the students. The tutorial teaches players how to use the basic functions of Minecraft in a step-by-step process that gets more advanced as you move along. The tutorial would be helpful for a novice player but there are some parts where the road splits and it may be confusing which way to go, otherwise stupendous. I thought it was fun to work with teachers and get to know what’s happening in the teaching world. It was cool to work together and to create something new with teachers, and to get students excited about the U.S. Constitution.
Literacy Renaissance: Invention, Intention, and Close Study
Morning Keynote Speakers
This is a guest post from my friend and mentor, @KJBD
#CLinTE in the Making: Co-Designing the Connected Learning in Teacher Ed Gathering
The word “gather” has its roots in Old English from two words: geador (together) and gaed (good and/or fellowship). In July, 20 teacher educators from across the U.S. gathered for a weekend to talk about the ways in which we could support each other in teaching, researching, and living out the core principles of connected learning. Much like the root meaning of the word, this weekend was both about being together, and engendering positivity and possibility in our work.
As a member of the planning team for the event, I found that there were several tensions that we had to work through in creating a “good togetherness.” and space for the work. In this post, I share those tensions, and how we attempted to address them through our collaborative process.
First, was the tension of making and reflecting. At the center of much Connected Learning work are three concepts: production (making), equity (social justice), and relationships. What this meant for us is that we had to work at the crossroads of making and reflection about identity and participation- constantly cycling back and forth: we are what we make, we make who we are. We had to create a space in which we truly lived in praxis (action/reflection).
We addressed this tension both structurally, through theagenda, and through roles played by members of the group. Structurally, we designed an agenda that cycled between making and reflecting. These cycles built upon each other, and were threaded by the key categories that the participants had said brought them to the space: Pedagogy, Research, Public Engagement, and Sustainability. We also designed a role that members could take on that fostered a meta-perspective on our work: Ethnographers of interactions and work. People at the gathering signed up to work as Ethnographers in time slots, and then reported back to the group throughout the weekend about how they observed the ways in which we interacted with each other, moved through the room, and engaged in work.
The second tension was related to the Connected Learning principle of openly networked learning, and more specifically, inclusion and diversity. We wanted others that were interested in this work to be invited to participate and contribute, even if they could not make it there in person. Also, we were a group of mainly White women, and we wanted to be intentional in building and inviting greater diversity in the group. Finally, there is the core issue of inclusion – if you are a ‘group’ that means you have a shared identity and value system – which some people don’t share, and are thus excluded. How can a group be both open, and yet also center on a core set of work and values?
We attempted to address this tension through connected technologies, intentional invitations, and additional roles played by participants at the gathering. With technologies, we stuck to simple – a bare-bones google sites website, shared google docs of notes on the sessions, and a google form sign-up for folks that wanted to be “virtual participants.” We also held a live-streamed panel of recent graduates of Arcadia’s Connected Learning program. This served two purposes: invited in new people and perspectives (and greater diversity), and provided a window in to our event for virtual participants.
Yet, we knew that these technologies alone would not foster a continuous, open conversation and room for feedback. Therefore, we created another kind of role: Virtual Facilitators. Like the Ethnographers, people signed up in session slots to be Virtual Facilitators. In this role, the not only shared out what was happening during the gathering to the virtual participants, but they also shared in – bringing in comments or conversation that virtual participants shared (full disclosure: there was not a whole lot – but at least we tried! And we knew there were a number of ‘lurkers’).
Finally, the other main tension was our leadership participation and structure – would the CLinTE gathering result in the development of a network, or an organization? This was something we had to work through during the gathering. We held a session to explicitly explore our assumptions and beliefs about the work we needed to do as a group and to draw inspiration from existing networks and organizations that had sustainable structures.
What has emerged is a kind of hybrid structure. At the core of the structure is a true organization in a sense – people with specific roles, dedicated to take on tasks that keep the network running. Yet, layered on this structure is an interest-based network of nodes, which invites membership from anyone and everyone who is interested in transforming teacher education to reflect the principles of connected learning.
There is much more to come, and to write about regarding this effort. However, I learned so much just in the process of developing gathering, that I felt that it deserved its very own post. It would be remiss of me to not recognize and thank the other members of our CLinTE planning team: Christina Cantrill, Anna Smith, Lindy Johnson, Sarah Lohnes-Watulak, and Dan Roy – amazing teachers, scholars, and planners!
If you are interested in following or participating in the work of this amazing network, sign up at the website: https://sites.google.com/view/cl-in-te/get-involved
It is the best feeling when you get to do new work with friends you’ve had for a while.
I’ve know Paul Oh since my days a teacher consultant for the Philadelphia and National Writing Project. He’s been a mentor, an encouraging voice, and a kind friend to me for a number of years. So when we at Minecraft Education Edition came upon an opportunity to collaborate with the amazing minds at the Teaching Channel, we dove into the opportunity.
Below you’ll a link to the podcast and post from our collaboration with them, and be sure to follow the series because our amazing mentors will take over the series and continue to share their practice in the classroom with Minecraft Education Edition.
Please let me know if you check this work out and have a comment or question for me.
Tch Talks caught up with Meenoo Rami, Manager at Minecraft Education Edition, to hear more about the ways teachers across the world are unleashing Minecraft for deeper student learning and engagement. Gain insights and discover resources to help you leverage one of the world’s most popular games in your classroom.
This is the first in our five-part podcast series, Teaching and Learning with Minecraft. Stay tuned for episodes that focus more specifically on Engagement, Collaboration, Creativity, and Tangible Learning Outcomes.
This week, I spent part of it with a sixth grade class at the International School in the Bellevue School District. Together with their amazing teacher Cheryl, we ran a focus week for a group of 15 students. Students were allowed to pick from a myriad of activities as part of their pre-spring break choice week. This particular group had chosen to work with me on Minecraft Education Edition because of their love and passion for the game.
In planning for the week, I wanted to provide them with an authentic opportunity to interact with not just me but other members of our team, learn a bit more about how features get developed into their beloved game, and design thinking process involved in making it all come to life.
Students formed small groups and took on the challenge of pitching features they’d like to see in the Minecraft Education Edition. If you’d like to see how this week together, check out our OneNote here. You can also see students’ proposed ideas here.
Needless to say, when students are given an opportunity to work together to solve a complex challenge, they will astound us with their creative prowess and empathy for users. I am so lucky to have met these students and some of them even helped me to work on my Minecart creations.
Let me know if you’d like to use some of these resources to create your own design challenge day(s) with your students. I’d love to connect with you and help you do a similar activity with your students.