Friday, March 1, 2013

Through Fahrenheit 451, RSA Animate, and Twitter We Discover Cultural Context

Most of my best lesson plans are serendipitous. This was no different. Tired of my “go to”s for getting students to engage in text and big ideas, I trolled Twitter and came upon Paul Bogush’s Blog about his classes’ experience making RSA videos. It occurred to me that this would be a great way for students to explore societal change in Fahrenheit 451 by forcing them to engage with the texts without pulling out quotes and asking them, “so what does this show about society.” Instead, they would walk me through their analytical thinking process!

I picked  a mentor text with a thematic element that connected to our discussions surrounding 451.  Another RSA video, Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity” provided an opportunity to discuss genre and thematic elements. Before showing them the mentor text, I announced, “ I know what I want to do, but I don’t know how to do it. I am confident we can figure it out together”. You can read about the process or view the videos. However, there was some unexpected learning that was perhaps, the most valuable part of the project.

Joe Wood tweeted about my project and shared it with the author of the blog that inspired the project. He showed his students the videos. Soon I received the private Tweet, “take a look at the last video on the page you sent class gave a bit of a gasp at one of the speech bubbles :)” from Paul Bogush. I immediately interrupted my students. “Okay, who did something ”? They looked at each other. I read the tweet out loud.  Knowing glances passed all the way through the room. I furiously started viewing videos. Should I have previewed before allowing them to post?

Come to find out one video contained a cartoon image of an asian stick figure with a bubble saying, “Ching Chong” and a characterture of a black stick figure saying , “Yo”. The creators of the video, two Asian females and a black female student, immediately defended themselves by saying, “...but I am Asian, I can say it!” Three minority, female students appropriated stereotypes and used them to demonstrate power over their own identities. They used the stereotypes to create humor in much the same way as Margaret Choi.

This experience led my class to discuss the importance of knowing the cultural context of their audience and being aware that they did not have to worry about what I thought when I saw the video, but what the world thought when they saw their video. This authentic discussion regarding audience never occurs after an essay assignment. It took a wider audience to bring about this awareness to my students.



  1. Hmmm....funny how we have to totally re-think how we are represented by our digital footprints. A comedian can take a poke at his/her race/gender/etc and the audience wouldn't think twice. But you can "see" the comedian, you somewhat know who they are and what they are doing. We fill the internet with such small faceless snippets off ourselves. The audience does not see our color, gender, does not see our body language and in most cases the tone of our "voice" whether it be written or visual.

    This is a great post to share with a class starting any digital project.

  2. Earlier this week, I started to use personal devices to allow students to make comments/discuss on a back channel while watching a Ted Talk. After the talk, I flashed up the backchannel on the projector. Students were not aware I was going to do this. Then, I explained that I would be sharing a transcript with fellow teachers from other schools and posting it on my website. The look on their faces was priceless. It provided yet another opportunity to discuss audience :) "You don't have to worry about Spall reading what you wrote....I know you are awesome. You have to worry about those who kind of know you or don't know you!"