Archive for May 31, 2012

Summer Songs: Defend, Challenge or Qualify

This week we’ve looked at the social/cultural implications of summer songs and the viral video “knock offs” they produce, and we’ve had fun.  I’ve watched College Humor’s “Some Study That I Used to Know” so many times that I’m starting to get dirty looks from the man that lives with me.  Once is funny.  Twice is humorous.  23 times is nothing short of some kind of personal psychosis.  Even I understand my infinite loop is a problem.  So how do we turn all of this pop culturally exploration into solid argumentation? And how do I stop listening to these songs?

Answering the second question is impossible so I’ll try question the first instead.  An excellent way to end a study of the songs of summer is to write a speech that defends challenges or qualifies.  You know we love UPENN’s 60-second lectures.  What could be better for a brief end of the year or start to next year.  I often like to ask students to write the side of the argument they find most difficult to discuss.

Ask students to use their essential questions (not about specific songs) or have them choose from a list that you create.


  • What does summer music suggest about values in American culture?
  • How does America’s love of pop music define us as a society?
  • Why do Americans feel compelled to define summer as carefree and wild?

Then have students construct their own speech.  Have them video these speeches and post them to Youtube or Tumblr or even Voice Thread.  It’s a nice way to keep them all in one place.  While you of course have to view them all, consider assigning several and evaluating them in class according to your own rubric.

You can also have students choose one of the songs in contention for Summer Song 2012 and write in defense of it. So, what about the contenders?  Vulture makes the case that there are five by the following artists: Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen, Usher, Rhianna and Katy Perry.  Ask students to choose one of the songs and argue in writing or speech why it should reign this summer.  If you’re feeling tricky, instead ask them to pick a song, currently in rotation.

Elements to Consider Including for an In Defense of Speech or Essay

  1. Ask that they include certain rhetorical elements-anaphora, metaphor, allusion, etc.
  2. Ask that they draft a proposal for their speech (title, topic, description, etc.)
  3. Ask that they draft a speech.  Provide feedback on the speech.
  4. Discuss public speaking tips.
  5. Consider allowing students to evaluate and critique speeches when they are presented, with parameters, of course. You can do this by creating a simple checklist/rubric for students or asking them to SOAPSTone each speaker.  Offer several categories for winning:
    1. Most Convincing
    2. Cleverest Title & Topic
    3. Best Line

Songs of Summer: Viral Videos

I love the viral video.  More than that I love viral videos that parody and recreate pop songs.  Ah, the lip-syncing, the bad dancing, the crappy props.  Who can forget the soldiers in Afghanistan dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” in 2010?  I must have watched that for two days straight.

If you’re going to talk about potential songs of summer, you have to talk about the viral videos that accompany them.  It isn’t as if people (i.e. myself) haven’t been recreating songs with all the flourishes and dance moves since Michael Jackson’s Bad.  Thank God none of that was ever broadcast to the world.  Today, every video on YouTube has the potential to go viral.

If you ask your students they are the first to admit that they saw Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez’s homemade video of “Call Me Maybe” before they saw the Jepsen’s real video.  Ask them about the Harvard baseball team’s “take” and you’re bet to get most of them to laugh. Yes, the pop music, the song of summer is important but so too are the video “remakes.”

Now, imagine a whole class where you talk about the power of summer pop music coupled with viral videos.  Your students might think your crazy.   You might think you’re crazy.  Don’t worry, we’re here to help with all of that.

I’ve chosen two songs currently in contention for Summer Song.  Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”  Don’t believe me?  Check out The Week’s list.  I’d trust them more than me, too.


First have students listen to both songs without any video. You can do that simply by playing their videos on Youtube with the video turned off.  As they listen ask that they write down basic observations about music, lyrics, rhythm, etc.  Their goal is to quantify what makes the song catchy enough to be a summer song contender.

Next, have them watch the parodies.  Their job isn’t to compare them to the original.  They aren’t the same.  Their job instead is to look at them individually to decide individual purpose and then big picture effect.  Have them formulate essential questions for each of the videos.  Choose the best ones and then ask that you discuss or write as a class.


Gotye Parodies-”Somebody that I used to Know”

 The Kobe that We Used to Know 


SNL-Digital Short 

For yourself checkout College Humor’s Some Study that I Used to Know.  It’s hilarious but borderline in terms of appropriateness for school.  


Carly Rae Jepsen Parodies-”Call Me Maybe”


Harvard Baseball 2012-”Call Me Maybe”


SMU Women’s Rowing 2012-”Call Me Maybe” 


The Tonight Show’s “with” Mitt Romney & President Obama

Also checkout NPR’s blog The Record for an entire post about covers, parodies and more.  The title is “Dudes Act Like a Lady: ‘Call Me Maybe’ Takes Over YouTube.


Want to do a language study instead?  Ask students to look at Vulture’s wordle of the most used words in the “it” songs of summer.  Ask them to first construct essential questions about the word usage itself and then use one of their level three questions to construct a paragraph argument.

Songs of Summer: Essential Questions

I’ll admit it.  I listened to Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” on an infinite loop during the summer of 1993.  Keep in mind, infinite loop meant hitting the back button on a CD Walkman.  This statement dates me.  Right now my students are listening to Carly Rae Jepsen or One Direction. Last summer they were listening to LMFAO’s “Party Rock” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”.  But Janet Jackson?  I’m not even sure they remember her wardrobe malfunction.

There’s something about a good catchy pop song, especially during the summer.  I can pinpoint exactly what I was doing while listening to the great ones (i.e. Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”) and the horrible ones (i.e. Los Del Rios’ “Macarena”).

Whether you find the “it” song of summer better every time it’s played or so annoying that you change the station, you know them and so do your students. It can be hard to find a topic, any topic that so vividly inspires debate in students as defending or defiling the summer song.

So make use of it.  With very little prep work you can listen to a little music, engage in a bit of critical thinking and ask students to create their own “essential” questions about how these summer music trends reflect upon our culture.

Below is a list of articles that highlight songs from past summers and predict this summer’s biggest hits.  Have students read or listen to several.  Then ask that they construct levels of questions for the best one.  The goal: identify big picture issues at stake when it comes to culture and the song of summer.

I’ve attached an easily modified Levels of Questions Model that uses the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as an example.  It’s an easy assignment to translate for any passage analysis, documentary film study, editorial, etc.  They simply need to have a model before they prepare their own level 1, 2, and 3 questions.

Articles: Songs of Summer

Articles fromNPR, The Washington Post, Vulture and Yahoo Music. 

Music in the Classroom: Songs of Summer

Memorial Day weekend is such a tease.  It feels like summer with its late nights, blockbuster movies, backyard cookouts and silent alarm clocks. But for those of us whose schools are in session until the middle of June, this holiday weekend is simply that—a long weekend.

Three and a half weeks of school still await me, and those three and a half weeks can be dreadful.  Even the best students, when finished with AP and state tests, can become belligerent.  And me?  I become belligerent, too.    Learn because I say so.  Read because I say so.  Enjoy – because I say so.

I’m not at my best as a teacher in June.  Exhausted and out of steam I feel locked in an unwinnable battle with a room full of 17-year-olds: people who up until this point had laughed at some of my jokes and at least attempted to do some of my assignments.

Testing in May makes teaching in June difficult.  That’s why this week we’ll talk about high interest end of the year lessons by revisiting music in the classroom.  But this time we’ll do it with a focus on popular culture, music and the ever innocuous “songs of summer.”

If your students are swooning over One Direction and humming “Call Me Maybe” this week’s lessons will help meet them halfway.  You won’t have to compromise all of the reading, writing and critical thinking skills you’ve tasked them with all year.  They’ll be able to talk about their favorite bands and popular music.  It might not be summer vacation, but we’ll get you as close as possible to the beach with summer music.

As a refresher take a peak at Emily’s posts from October 2011 about song use in the classroom.  They’re a good place to start.


Day One:  Overview of Songs in the Classroom

Day Two:  Creating a Literary Mash-Up

Day Three:  Ideas to Use Songs That Connect to Text

Day Four:  Tonal Shifts in Song Covers

Review of Songs in the Classroom


Law in the Classroom: Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss John Edwards’ fate.


1.)  I know you love Clarence Darrow’s closing argument.  However, it was seven hours long.  C’mon, Darrow.  Really?  Seven hours?  That’s a little excessive.  Aubrey, in honor of Darrow, if you had to deliver a speech for seven hours what would be your topic?  Is there anything you could speak about for seven hours?
Listen.  We’ve had this conversation before.  LEAVE DARROW ALONE Is Aubrey right?or there is a distinct possibility that we fight and you lose.  Okay, so let me respond by giving you several categories.  In terms of literature I could speak on All the King’s Men for at least seven hours.  That would be the short, short version.  In terms of food, making pie crust from scratch.  In terms of pop culture, well, so many choices.  Probably something about Bristol Palin’s retooled show for Lifetime.  I could talk about that for hours.  
Emily:  Don’t mistake me.  I love the closing argument.  I think it is great.  I just think it is a little long.  I can’t imagine sitting in the courtroom listening to one person speak that long.  You, however, I could certainly listen to you talk about making pie crusts from scratch.  I’ve had your pies before and they are tasty!

2.)  To what extent do you think teachers need to be conscientious of controversy when selecting cases for students to study?
Aubrey: I think it’s very important to be aware and thoughtful of how controversy can impact students.  I want to create critical thinkers but sometimes there are things I don’t want us to cover in class.  We need to discuss global issues, dissect cultural norms because it makes for thoughtful argumentation but the biggest challenge is to find a way to do so where I don’t have to play referee.  I’m not sure I’ve found that happy medium.  

What does Emily say?Emily:  Sometimes I forget that they are kids.  I think they can handle talking about John Edwards using donor money to hide his mistress, but I’m not sure they can handle really graphic or extreme cases.  Correction:  I’m not sure I can handle dealing with the parent complaints from giving them a controversial case to handle. 

3.)  This week I profiled several skills lawyers must possess.  They must be able to analyze the audience of the judge/jury, sift through seemingly meaningless research looking for clues, and determine the larger argument that needs to be addressed.  What do you think is another important skill lawyers need to possess.  Feel free to be funny and poke fun of the rich, rich lawyers.
Aubrey: Well, what I’ve learned from The Good Wife is they need to have the power of both rhetoric and justice on their side.  Also a lot of money, some killer heels and a sensible haircut.   

Emily:  That is so sad…and so true.  I will say though that I do feel more powerful in a good pair of heels. 

3.)  Imagine you are a participant of the current John Edwards trial.  What role would you like?  Juror?  Defense?  Prosecutor? Judge?  Bailiff?  Why?
Aubrey: You’ve left out court reporter and sketch artist.  Since I can’t draw it’s definitely court reporter.  All I would have to do is type accurately and quickly.  

Emily:  Really?  Reporter?  I’d have too tough of a time keeping my opinion out of the article.  I’d love to be on the jury or serve as the presiding judge.  I’d just want access to all of the dirty evidence.

4.) In what way is a teacher like a lawyer?
Aubrey: I am constantly on trial and not by a jury of my peers.  Hmmm.  You said lawyer not defendant.  Okay, then I’m definitely doing pro bono work.

Emily:  Amen, sister.  I feel like I am constantly having to prove myself and validate the content I teach with evidence that it is valuable.  It’s a fine line to balance between entertaining and persuading.  I feel like I’m failing at both!

Researching the Argument

One of the dilemmas of an English teacher is how to teach students good research skills without assigning the dreaded research paper.  I have sworn off research papers because I’m so sick of reading “research” papers that locate “credible sources” to support lowering the drinking age or making marijuana Read more

Analyzing the Argument of Court Cases

Teenagers are so used to arguing with people; they’d make great lawyers…if only they could better identify the nature of arguments.  To make them better at convincing their parents to stay out past curfew, students need a lot of help getting to the implicit argument.  However, if you are looking for a new way to inspire students to analyze an argument, consider asking them to study court cases. Read more

Writing Opening and Closing Arguments

When it comes to writing with style a lot of students defer to clichéd topics. 
They might write about a first love and use sweeping language.  They might write about a time when they felt defeated (like from being cut from a sports team) and have a piece rife with hyperbole.  Or they might describe their favorite holiday and use a sentimental (aka sappy and underdeveloped) tone.  However, I don’t blame the students.  Many times the reason for maudlin writing is because of the prompts we provide them.  In their defense, it is challenging to write about a favorite memory without sounding contrived or unsophisticated.  Give them a more meaningful reason for writing and it will become more purposeful.  Having students write opening and closing arguments for existing court cases is a great way to get students more engaged in their writing because they are writing to save someone’s life. Read more

Law in the Classroom: Overview

I hate math.  I really do.  I have a hard time multiplying any number past 7.  So much of my dislike of math is that I struggle to see its purpose in my life.  Why do I need to know the quadratic equation?  When will it ever impact my life?  However, I finally saw some meaning when my teachers would offer word problems, like “you are 90 miles away from the nearest town.  Your car gets 23 miles to the gallon.  How many gallons of gas will you have gone through when you get to the town?”  While I still had a hard time with basic arithmetic, I liked the applicability of these problems.  They made math seem more common place and useful in my world. Read more

QR Codes Part Deux: Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss QR Codes revisited and Bring it On!

1.  Why is it so significant to choose tech for the classroom that can be used in a variety of ways?

Emily:  Students learn in different ways.  Providing flexibility in assignments, materials, texts, and technology is important to help students learn more effectively.

Aubrey: I think “flexible” tech provides teachers the ability to become experts.  Part of what scares all of us away from using technology in the classroom is whether or not we can use it again and again.  If the answer is no, I’ll never use this medium again why bother?  I want applications that can serve in a variety of capacities.

2.  Why is it important that we revisit past lessons we’ve share via ?

Emily:  I think it is extremely important.  When working on a post I am often overwhelmed with everything I could incorporate.  As a result, there are many What does Emily say?weeks when I say to myself “I’ll just have to do another week of this topic.”  I think it is really important to revisit QR codes (and really anything technology based).  Technology keeps expanding and our knowledge of how to use it in the classroom keeps expanding.  It isn’t like teaching Shakespeare, which never changes.  Technology evolves so rapidly that we need to keep presenting ideas and ways to incorporate it into the classroom.

Aubrey: I feel the same way.  Revisiting areas of focus proves that culture, technology, current events–all of it plays a huge part in what shapes a humanities class is shaped.  I would be worried if we didn’t revisit ideas and lessons.

3.  Does the QR code enhance daily life?  Or, is it simply a detractor that provides too much extra and unnecessary information for the individual?

Emily:  It certainly makes things easier.  However, I don’t think they “provide too much extra and unnecessary information.”  Instead, my biggest fear with QR codes is just how easy it makes research.  QR codes make me curious about the ways in which students’ research abilities could be compromised.  Of course, this is years away and achieved through more things than just QR codes, but it is a long-term concern of mine.

Aubrey: Love it.  Don’t care if it provides me with too much information.  I want to know everything if only for a second.  Now, it is clear to me that after I look up this information I will immediately forget it and then be forced to look it up again later on.  This matters very little to me.  I need to know.



4.  Are QR codes just a fad?

Emily:  I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I do think they are a fad.  They keep popping in and out of trend reports.  I feel like they are seen more now but dwindled in use in the winter months.  I like the efficiency of them and think they are helpful in navigating directly to a page but just don’t know how lasting they are.

Actually I think they’re a fad too.  I’m fairly certain we won’t be talking about them in 10 years.  They are a fun little gadget and they’re good for directing students to material but I do find them somewhat ugly.

This week I’ve provided several model assignments focusing on student choice and QR codes.   Please participate in the model lesson  below.


Pop Culture via QR Codes

Please choose one of the QR codes below.  Review the material and construct a response that identifies the tone and big picture importance.  

Bring it on?

Choice #2


Choice #1






Emily:  I choose QR code #2:  Bring It On the Musical.  This play came to Chicago and I begged my friends to go with me.  They refused.  I am now What does Emily say?without the musical interludes of Torrence Shipman.  I will never forgive them for this.  I can’t focus on the tone because I’m blinded by how perfect the musical is.  It highlights the capitalistic nature of our society through the rise of a poor school being able to compete at Nationals.  Bring It On is the true American classic.  Bottom line.


Aubrey:  Hah!  I knew you’d choose two.  I on the other hand am much more interested in Adam Levine & Christina Aguilera’s feud.  Don’t tell anyone but I like to watch The Voice.  Usually in secret.  It’s shameful but there you have it.