I don’t know how it happened, but there came a day where one of my classes was sitting around talking about favorite movies. As I listened to them speak, I realized that we could use video to think about how texts are structured. Ideally, they would learn something they could apply to their own writing.
I know this isn’t an earth-shattering idea or anything, but it’s going somewhere good.
I asked students if they had experience with Ted Talks. Of the roughly 20 students I see each day, one knew what they were and was really into watching them. The rest had never heard of them. I explained that we could watch a Ted Talk to think about how people structure speeches – which are written/sketched out beforehand – and then apply what they learned to their own essays. They didn’t love the idea, but they didn’t hate it either.
We watched two talks over two days. The first talk we watched was from Tavi Gevinson. I thought they would be interested in watching someone not much older than them speak (and she gave the talk when she was 15). The second was Cameron Russell’s talk about modeling and how looks are interpreted by others in society.
We used these talks to look at things like how ideas were presented, what did/did not work for them, and how the speakers grabbed their attention.
Students really enjoyed these talks and started suggesting ideas for what we should watch, but their ideas were mostly random (technology), and they wanted me to do all the work. I said I was open to watching what they wanted to BUT: (a) they had to come to the table with a specific suggestion and (b) it had to relate to the class in some way. When I said that they had to do some ground work, some of the backed off right away. But not all.
On the third day, I came in prepared to show them this talk from Phil Lord on revising and editing as it relates to film scripts. The first class didn’t get to watch it. We simply ran out of time. But the second class made sure they had time. They wanted to see it, and kept themselves organized to make it happen.
However, when it came time to watch the talk, one of my students shouted out, “No, no no! I got something. Please. I went and looked and I found something we can use and can we watch what I found please?”
Well, I don’t know. What’d you find?
Turns out, he found something highly relevant that everyone was into. It was John McWhorter’s talk, Txting is Killing Language. JK!!!
Yeah – that’s relevant. We can certainly watch it. And we did. And they were all glued to this talk about the development of language over time. It was amazing,
Now, what I liked about this moment is that we watched a video found by a student. Yes, there is definitely a place for videos and what not that I select, but I always want to try to find space to include what students want to do so long as it is relevant to our work. That empowers them and, I hope, it gets them motivated to look for more relevant things for our class when they are at home.
I also think that including what students bring to the table shows students that we really are in this together. When I tell them I want to hear from them I really do mean that. I want them to tell me how we can shape the class together so that it benefits them, and I want them to contribute to the growth of the class. This is what makes the class better. I might never have come across McWhorter’s talk on my own, but it’s a great talk that I’ll keep around for future use.
Today, we shift into the last three weeks of the summer program. In these three weeks we meet in smaller groups (about five students per group) for 45 minutes of time to focus on literature. However, every day there is an hour long study hall. Students can see any teacher for extra help or they can go read or do whatever they need to do related to the program. I’m hoping to continue to host viewings and discussions of Ted Talks, and I’m hopeful that students will start to direct the discussions that follow them.