Thursday, July 19, 2007

Recharging the Batteries #1: Mali's Viral Slam

It's midsummer. A time by which I hope some of the stress of the previous school year has melted in the Western Pennsylvanian humidity of July. A time when I start to shift through all of those piles of "to file." A time when I begin go to a mall and not wince at the sight of teens. A time when I start preparing for next year with some enthusiasm.

Today, I got a boost as I watched slam poetry bard Taylor Mali on YouTube on "What Teachers Make." Almost anyone who's been a teacher more than a year has run into one of dozens of sophomoric spams about how teachers "make a difference." So true perhaps, but so cliche. Yet, Mali's take on the topic entitled, "What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don't work out, you can always go to law school," refreshes the defense.

If Mali's answers are much the same as other similar "make a difference" poems, his ramp up to the answer provides a good context having a lawyer ask the question, and the clever: "I decide to bite my tongue instead of his." Granted, at points Mali's language and gesture may offend some people, but it is these that give the verse (and his delivery) versimilitude and freshness, if not an echo of a few union meeting diatribes. Bottom line: it got to me.

It added to my annual recharging of batteries, and thinking it might do the same for you, I've included the links here. Again, warning: it has content that might be objectionable to some. It's slam poetry after all.
According to Mali, 'turns out that many of those spams I've seen in the past few years are likely to have been the work of plagiarists at the school copier. (Teachers would do that? Nah!) Suffice it to say the original is best and delivered most believably and powerfully by its author. Take a look at what is another viral video for pedagogs. At least if it gets spammed, it will be the genuine article.

The full text of the poem is available at YouTube page, or, better by far (i.e. worth the visit), at

Monday, July 9, 2007

Is YouTube the Next Google?

In Patricia Deuble's article Second Life: Do You Need One? (Part 1) in June 2007 issue of T.H.E. Journal, she describes her own process of frustration and discovery in figuring out how Linden Lab's online role-playing game worked. Listing what was helpful, she notes a tutorial on YouTube.

There's a growing list of SL video tutorials, plus the Top 10 Second Life Tutorial Videos on YouTube, which helped to explain inventory and how to make gestures, for example. Inventory is anything you collect in SL that you can put on your avatar, use to build, or give away.
This first made me realize that, until now, I would not have thought to suss around YouTube for a tutorial on anything, despite the fact that I have watched tutorial videos from YouTube when they were placed in the context of a site on a particular topic, including the YouTube tutorials on YouTube.

I guess I'm a slow learner.

So then I thought: as more people (and instituions and companies and schools) pick up camcorders and turn on webcams to create informative and educational content for YouTube (and other competing video websites) I imagine the phrase "YouTube it!" following "Google it!" Of course, Google has a video search section of its own, but not cultural clout that YouTube seems to currently enjoy.

Of course, with this development will need come the apparatus to teach students to evaluate, cite, and document their web video sources. Ah, yeah, that will take the fun out of it.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Summer Stock

Almost a month since the school bells rang for the last time before summer vacation, it is just about now that I can begin to relax. It's also given me some time to do some remodeling on my class website and reflect on what I've learned about blogging in the classroom this year. Er, maybe I should say, "outside of the classroom."

I believe I've learned more about my students' experience with blogging from my experience here at ifbeesarefew. Knowing this I would highly recommend to any teacher who is planning on creating a blog for his or her classes to also create their own blog or at least participate regularly in a blog.

Here's what I've learned:

Getting started is difficult--almost every time. Posting is scary, partly because, if you make a mistake everyone can see it, and partly because its possible that no may read what you are writing.

Writing develops thinking. As the great British teacher and research of writing Nancy Martin always contended, I think as I write. If I have no idea as to what to write a post on, all I have to do is sit down and start writing. Before I know it I have a post.

Ownership leads to quality. The same fear creates the positive results of ownership. When I blog I really care what I write, and my writing is generally better because of this care.

Readership (and comments) encourage a blogger. When I get a comment, note a jump in my counter, or see a new city pop up in my visitor map, I get excited to think others are reading. Having an audience matters also shapes my "voice." Again, the "care" factor kicks in. For a variety of reasons an audience matters full-stop.

Writing models are powerful tools. I use others' posts as models. I have learned more about how to write, lead in, quote, document, give analysis, and develop ideas in my blog posts thanks largely to great models of others' blogs.

Ease allows for length and length for depth. Although most blogs require brevity, as a teacher, I know I encourage my students to write more than they would on their own. And there is something about filling up a blog post dialogue box that seems easy (as I say, once one gets started) than filling up a regular word-document. The conversational nature of blogging also seems to call forth "voice" more than conventional word-processing. So as my students wax on, they deepen their thinking/writing.

Brevity calls for precision and economy. For me, length is not a problem, once I get started. And so the challenge is to be concise and precise. Again, a valuable writing skill for my students.

As I said, I've learned about my students by learning about myself. My hunch is that the above attributes and experiences that are true for me are true for my students as well. They confirm a value I as a teacher see in having my students blog--if only for the sake of improving their writing and thinking skills, let alone practice in media literacy and civic responsibility.