Archive for Media Literacy

Week in Review: Art in the Classroom


           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss whether or not art belongs in the English classroom.  

1.)  Is there a particular artistic movement that you feel is best associated with literature as a whole?  Impressionism?  Dadaism?  Cubism?Is Aubrey right?

Aubrey: I really like the idea of Impressionism as being indicative of literature.  Up close everything is very purposeful, very tightly constructed. It is distance however that offers perspective, story, overarching purpose and emotional attachment.  Hmmm.  That feels both cliche and deep at the same time.   Read more

How to Use Art in the Classroom

Before students can begin connecting the artwork to literature they have to have a thorough knowledge of the image itself.  An easy way to do this is to ask them to apply the SMEARS acronym profiled on Tuesday.  Depending on the ability level of the students and the difficulty of the image, students might need to work in groups or answer questions to help them complete the acronym.  Then, after they have a firm understanding of the image, you can incorporate the texts suggested yesterdayRead more

Art to Pair with Literature

Horace once said that “a picture is a poem without words.”  What this is really speaking to is the expressiveness of an image.  Often art can help to capture the essence of piece of writing and therefore bring out the emotions and purpose of a piece of literature.

However, I don’t think I need to convince you.  I think a primary reason why English teachers don’t use more art in the classroom is not because they don’t think it serves a purpose but because they don’t know which pieces best match the literature they teach in class.  Therefore, the purpose of today isn’t necessarily to justify the use of art in the classroom or advise teachers on how to implement art.  Instead, I’m going to suggest pieces of artwork that pair nicely with commonly known texts in an English classroom.  Tomorrow, I’ll present activities that will help students analyze the connection between the art and the texts.

Most of the artists I will suggest fall under the Cubist movement.  While not exclusive to the list, I think these work best because they are so abstract that
students won’t be tempted to connect the painting and the text by subject matter.


When teaching texts that involve an introspective look at the main character or

that features a character that faces internal struggles, Picasso is an excellent resource.  Picasso often features a singular subject in a distorted perspective.  Because of this, it can be explored how Picasso paintings reflect the struggles of the character.  This particular painting of Picasso’s known as El Sueno, conveys a woman who appears passive and at peace, while her head is being split in two and is surrounded by bold, contrasting colors.  This piece would work well with texts like Picture of Dorian Grey, Oedipus Rex, and Catcher in the Rye.

It is relatively easy to find images of men and women.  But, when teaching texts that portray complex relationships between men and women it is more challenging to find a painting that fully depicts the intricacy.  However, the iconic image American Gothic, by Grant Wood, is an excellent depiction of the ways in which men and women interact.  The shifting use of lines (rounded for the woman and landscape and angular for the man and house) brings out a contrast between genders and leads viewers into a discussion of power and how it is manifested by people.  This certainly works for pieces like Daisy Miller and A Doll’s House.  However, if teaching Shakespearean pieces, such as Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear, you might want to consider using a more connotative piece like Titian’s Venus and Adonis. Unlike the Wood piece, this painting reflects a sense of urgency and movement in the positioning of the figures.  Students might also explore the role of power within a relationship by exploring the use of coloring and skin tone for the woman, Venus, and how it contrasts the rich-colored clothing of the man, Adonis.  Also, the fact that the setting of the image takes place before Adonis is killed in a hunt provides students with context to consider the seriousness of a quest or journey that takes place within the story.

Even though they vary greatly in subject, Animal Farm, Heart of Darkness, Anne Frank, and even Mrs. Dalloway, profile an easily understandable subject matter in a very distorted way.  The same is true with the Cubist painters.  For these particular works, I would consider using pretty much any work from Picasso, or, specifically, the image from Georges Braque titled Still Life: Le Jour.  This oil painting features a still life, in which an artist has placed on a table a series of items to be painted.  However, Braque takes these common items and alters them to suggest a disfigured view of life.  While it might not explicitly connect to the pieces of fiction, students can engage in a discussion about the ways in which an ordinary details is treated in a very extraordinary manner.  Students might also analyze the perspective Braque provides the viewer on depth (especially the ways in which the table appears to “grow”), which could metaphorically represent the shifting depths of a character or plot point.

When reading pieces about revenge or discord between men, like Hamlet or Of Mice and Men, a softer, more sensitive side to death can be explored through the piece from Jacques-Louis David titled Death of Marat and features David’s constructed view of Marat’s, a French Revolutionary leader, death.  In this image, Marat is bathed in light and appears almost angelic or revered because of this.   David’s use of chiaroscuro, a shading from dark to light, highlights the vulnerability of this fallen leader and transforms the way critics see him.  This also helps establish a sense of vulnerability because of the facial features of Marat and the fact that he appears unarmed in the bath.  Students might consider how this portrayal mimics the loss of a leader.  An image like this could even work for any text when trying to bring out sincerity for a character who has fallen.

Exquisite Corpse

Finally, one of my favorite pieces doesn’t necessarily fit a theme.  It really just captures a time period:  American Modernism.  I love using the sketch from Man Ray, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise titled Exquisite Corpse when teaching pieces from Hemingway or Fitzgerald.  Specifically, the image draws a natural parallel between The Great Gatsby and the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby.  The image calls into question the role of society in a relationship and the ways in which a relationship can reflect the values of a time period.  Because of the joining of heads and the colors used, students can always engage in a really thorough discussion of how it connects to the novel or comparable works like “Winter Dreams,” or Hemingway’s “The End of Something.”



Acronym to Analyze Images


English teachers love acronyms.  TP-CASTT.  SOAPSTone.  DIDLS.  They are useful and practical tools to help students navigate their way from low-level understanding to critical analysis.  However, in such a visual-era, classrooms are infusing more and more images for their students to read and interpret.
Visual texts appear as an easy source of interpretation, yet, many students struggle to reach the really critical level of interpretation that is necessary.  Most students hover around summarizing the image or merely stating the main idea of the image, not the argument.


After sitting through multiple surface-level interpretations of images, I started to notice the error many students were making: they weren’t closely examining the minute details of the visual.  Typically, they were focusing on the image as a whole, not how the parts (or lack thereof) contributed to the whole.


Much like a traditional text, it is imperative for students to consider alternatives to the image and what could have been included but wasn’t.  They also need to recognize the relationship between elements/aspects within the image.   To help students get to a more meaningful evaluation of an image, I, in true English teacher fashion, devised the following acronym that I encourage my students to consider when evaluating a visual.  When it comes to image analysis, I ask them to SMEARS it:


What are the significant elements (i.e. people/groups) within the image? Strong images have multiple sections.  Determine the various sections within the image.


What is missing from the image?  Oftentimes when a person makes a prediction about how the text (or in this case images) could be altered, the person comes away with a greater understanding of what the image is actually conveying.  What is missing from this image and why?  How would the inclusion of this aspect alter the meaning of the image?


What emotion is derived from the image (either from the elements within the images or from your own response as a viewer of the image)?  Did the artist intentionally try to draw out this emotion?  How does it affect the viewing of the image?  How does it alter your interpretation of the image? 


What argument is being made in the image?  (Hint: even the barest images can still be providing a striking argument).  This will be a step beyond subject matter.  What is the artist arguing about the subject matter?


How do the different elements (people/groups/setting) play off of one another?  Closely examine the various significant elements interact with one another. How are they related?  In what way? What does it signify about the argument?


What is the subject matter of the image?  The more specific you are the better.  Avoid the literal or generic.  Consider what is really at stake in the image.


After following the above acronym when viewing Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, the students are able to construct a paragraph synthesizing their answers into a fluid interpretation.  When utilizing SMEARS, students have independently recognized the fact that a father or male figure is missing and that we don’t see the children’s faces.  They are able to identify that the mother, the dominant segment in the image, is conveying more emotion because she is looking in the distance instead of directly into the camera.  Likewise, they are able to glean that she is sheltering and hiding the faces of the children, as opposed to the children merely turning away from the photographer.  This leads them to stronger support for their interpretation of the mother and a deeper understanding than “it is a mom who is alone with her kids and she is sad because she is homeless,” which is what I was receiving in the past.


When incorporating art into the classroom considering beginning by asking students to evaluate the image through the above acronym, which will hopefully save you from painful image presentations.


Art in the Classroom: Overview

When Jeff Jarvis published What Would Google Do? it was a wake-up call to all of us.  We found ourselves agreeing and, when faced with a challenge, think how Google would handle it.  With the invention of Google our lives have been completely changed.  I can’t even fathom what life was like before Google.  Google, both a noun and a verb, has changed the face of our lives today, especially as educators.

So, when Google announced last week that the Google Art Project, one of Google’s pet projects,  had expanded to include 151 museums from 40 different countries, it got me thinking about the importance of Google and all this uber-company has brought to the classroom.

This particular project is impressive.  It’s like Google Earth meets an art museum.  Students can select a museum and essentially walk through it like they would on a Google map in street view.  While “walking” through the museum students are able to zoom into particular pieces of art or rotate and examine the setting in which the art is held.  They are able to truly experience a museum from their home.  This weekend, while “visiting”  the Musee d’Orsay, I kept finding pieces that related to literature my students had been studying.

Heralded by many as a way to engage students in critical thinking, art certainly has a place in the English classroom.  Analyzing an image is similar to analyzing a text:  students have to think about how the elements within the “text” help to support the form, purpose, and argument.  If anything, it is harder because they don’t have literal words to rely on for analysis.

We’ve focused a lot over the last few months about the importance of visual literacy, typically through photographs and primary sources.  However, with such great resources, like Google Art Project, English teachers also have a lot at their disposable to incorporate paintings, sculptures, and architecture in their classroom.  This week we will partnering heavy hitters like Shakespeare, Salinger, and Fitzgerald with Picasso, Monet, and da Vinci and helping you bring art into your classroom.

Brain Pickings: 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 discuss the need to supplement student reading and Lohan, Madonna and Costner.  Oh my!


1.  What type of reading would like your students to be able to do?  You cannot answer, “Any kind of reading would be nice seeing as how it’s February and nobody seems to reading.”

What does Emily say?Emily:  I think the most important thing is for them to be able to think while reading.  I think it is imperative they are able to read material that relates to their life and be able to make sense of it.  Realistically, in 10 years only a small percentage of our students will be reading the classics.  So they need to be able to read common, every day material but be able to see the larger importance of it, not merely dismiss it as something simple and therefore insignificant.

Aubrey: I would really like them to read complex and well written texts thatIs Aubrey right? interest and challenge.  I worry that often we want them to read only “great” literature.  Great literature has to be the anchor.  I want to teach future engineers who want to read Popular Science.  IT professionals who read WIRED and doctors who read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Asking them to read meaningful texts should require us to redefine meaningful.  

2.  Why is it so important to supplement classroom lesson plans with a variety of texts?

What does Emily say?Emily:  This is important because so many students cannot identify with the canonical texts we are required or choose to teach them.  And, realistically, these aren’t the pieces that students will choose to read on their own.  Supplementing the works allows students to see that reading takes place in a variety of arenas and helps them to find genres or types of  literature that is of interest to them.

Aubrey: They do need to understand that everything, regardless of format, requires an implicit reading.  Blogs, videos and “unconventional” texts often get them to rethink.  They require them to stretch their understanding.  

3.  If everything is an argument, what argument is made by any or all of the following: Lindsay Lohan hosting Saturday Night Live in March, Madonna’s new single “Give Me All Your Luvin” wherein she calls herself a “girl,” or Kevin Costner at Whitney Houston’s funeral.

Emily:  I think one idea that links all of them is the pursuit of seeking attention and fame at all costs, even if that means losing respect for yourself.  Can Lohan really survive a “live” taping of a show?  That new Madonna song is toxic.  And Costner’s 4-hour speech was a really just a display of his vanity.

Aubrey:  I would go so far as to call all of it vulgar.  Lohan shouldn’t be in theIs Aubrey right? public eye.  Madonna hasn’t been a girl since 1968.  Kevin Costner is a blowhard.  I long for something interesting to capture public interest.  But I worry that might include something about Rhianna and Chris Brown.  That I don’t think I can stand. Let February before over quickly so we can move more compelling news.

Brain Pickings: Posts with Video

What draws me to online resources for the classroom like Brain Pickings is the multimedia experience a single post can offer students.  While it’s true that video cannot be the only way we teach students to interact with the world, short, meaningful videos can help enrich the social commentary that student construct within their writing and discussion.

Part of asking students to become digital citizens means requiring them to consider how video, text and images overlap within writing online.  Brain Pickings offers a thoughtful way to incorporate this skill into a humanities style classroom.  The examples below are just a starting point and are meant to offer you some choices in teaching rhetoric, texts or moral/ethical debates.  You can easily find posts that better serve your needs depending on your curriculum simply by subscribing to the weekly newsletter or searching the archives.

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules Animated in Stop Motion

This post is an appropriate supplement to Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser or The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  There are several other Brain Pickings posts referenced, as well.  Consider having student explore/research the topic via these hyperlinks.  The video is a wonderful argument about food via food.  Consider the questions below for written response or discussion.

“Food Rules” by Michael Pollan – RSA/Nominet Trust competition from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

  1. What elements of the video are the most engaging or clever?  Explain your reasoning.
  2. What necessity is there for a visual representation of this nature?  Why not simply use both audio and video from Michael Pollan?
  3. Identify Pollan’s argument via the narration.  Identify the video’s argument via its content.

You may even consider including the Brain Pickings post entitled “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.”

Six Vintage Inspired Animations on Critical Thinking

Teaching logical fallacies can be difficult.  Students struggle to understand where/when they exist because they are inexperience and often believe most information is true.  This particular post includes a series of animated videos that teach logic and logical fallacies.  The non-sequitur and straw man videos are especially clear in teaching and could easily be posted for students to watch.


Straw Man 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

This post is a convergence of teaching the importance of empathy, action/volunteerism, entrepreneurship, global citizenship and literacy.  Use this multimedia post to teach students about the importance of literacy and personal action.  Questions below consider all aspects of the post.

  1. Why adapt this type of story from a memoir and turn it into an illustrated children’s book?
  2. What argument is to be found in the actual images assembled in the Brain Pickings post
  3. What argument is made within the post about this type of entrepreneurship and literacy?  Discuss the type or responsibility being advocated.
  4. View the video.  Discuss the mixed media is relies upon.  What is the effect of using the books illustrations, interviews and real video?
  5. Discuss the purpose of the video.  Does it accomplish that goal?

Encourage students to explore the We Give Books website.  Much like Free Rice, students, teacher, parents, etc. can read books online and then have books donated for no personal cost to several charities.

Brain Pickings: Posts about Authors

One of the things that draws me to Brain Pickings is the website’s constant focus on authors.  Each week, posts examine unusual and unexpected aspects of those writers that I “spend” much of my time teaching.  Featured in letters, illustrations, stop motion, book reviews, etc., these posts enrich and supplement daily lessons.

Calling upon text, images and video, these posts do more than merely disseminate information.  They are miniature pieces of “clickable” art.  They can serve to simply improve the daily grind of being a classroom teacher and brighten some of your more difficult days.  However, it is easy for students to see literature as simply a number of chapters due on any given day.  These posts remind both teacher and student that literature is something more than reading quiz followed by class discussion.

Consider using Brain Pickings in two ways: as an extension or supplement to a lesson on a specific text or literary term and as a way to have students write/discuss how we view the writers.  Below I’ve highlighted one post to show how to implement written response, classroom discussion and small group collaboration.

Writer’s Houses Illustrated

Questions to consider after reading/exploring:

  1. Why are we fascinated with where “creators create?”  What about their homes and personal lives would be of interest to us?
  2. Why would this project start with these authors’ homes?  What argument is made by illustrating these homes?
  3. What value is there is a project of this type.

Small Group Project: After examining this project, have students create an author driven project that they will pursue.  Encourage them to highlight at least 2-3 of the authors you studied thus far.  Ask that students work in small groups and create a working proposal that they “pitch” to you before they proceed.  Consider this to be part research paper, part cross-curricular learning and part creative presentation.  Steer clear of PowerPoint, Posters or other expected/tired assignment formats.  Give them guidelines but also challenge them to construct an outcome unlike their peers.

The project should identify the following:

  • An argument about writers in popular culture both past and present
  • A creative means via technology, art, social media, etc. to display this project.

Two other posts that can serve as powerful resources for discussing writer’s on their own craft are “From Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury Iconic Writers on Truth vs. Fiction” and “Advice on Writing From Modernity’s Greatest Writers.” Consider using the author statements in these posts as the basis for creating essay prompts.

Brain Pickings: Weekly Newsletter


Subscribe to Brain Pickings Weekly Newsletter

Brain Pickings, the cultural website curated by Maria Popova, is a trove of valuable and engaging classroom resources.  With several posts each day, the breadth and depth is remarkable.  One of the best things you can do is subscribe to the weekly newsletter.  An overview of the best stories from the week with added bonuses, it can help guide your reading and your students’ research depending on how you choose to implement this resource.

Because most Brain Pickings posts are complex conversations, you may want to pick and choose some of the videos, images, text, etc.   You can always have your students research the weekly newsletter itself and have them choose a post for themselves.  As with anything, I would recommend the use of SOAPSTone and/or précis paragraph writing in an attempt to have them look for argument/bias in all forms of writing.

Since there also exists a Weekly Newsletter Archive , you can quickly review the past several months of posts, too.  While I’ll spend the next two days highlighting specific posts, let me suggest one of my favorite newsletters.  A majority of the highlighted posts are easily accessible and incorporate video/photos to help students examine argument via different media and formats.   See ideas for incorporating the entirety of the newsletter into class discussion/writing below.

Weekly Newsletter-10/30/2011 – 5 Unsung Heroes Who Shaped Modern Life, a Pixar animator reimagines Hindu deities, and more

1. Have students read the “5 Unsung Heroes” post.  Ask that they, based on knowledge solely from the posts, construct an argument for or against the order in which the heroes are listed.

  • Have them examine the Henrietta Lacks section specifically.  Consider asking them to assess how video and multiple images make her seem a more convincing choice for number 1 of 5 most important.

2. Have students examine “The Phantom Tollbooth at 50” post and watch the accompanying short documentary.  Ask that they determine what, if any, the importance is between storyteller and illustrator.

3.  Have students examine the images included in “Visual Storytelling.”  Read and assess Popova’s argument about the book and images included.  Then have students parse the images discussing the following:

  • Image argument
  • Role of data
  • Role of aesthetics
  • Need for this type of visual storytelling in today’s culture

4.  Have students read/examine the post detailing “The Little Book of Hindu Deities.” Next, instead of giving them the essential questions have them create them.

  • Ask that they do more than just identify aspects of the post/images.  Ask that they also include moral/ethical debate questions that focus on the overlap popular culture and religion.

Week in Review: Radiolab

      Friday Dialogue from Your Two                                                        Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to assess their innermost feelings about Radiolab, podcasts and Heathers. 

1.  Do you think that Aubrey has an NPR problem?

Emily: Yes, but it is a healthy problem to have.  It’s a lot better than being addicted to TMZ and Arby’s.  NPR is great, don’t get me wrong.  I do enjoy some programs (This American Life?  Hello..fantastic.  Wait, Wait…I wait all week for it).  But, let’s be honest, NPR is kind of like Heathers, minus the murder and Christian Slater.  It has a cult folllowing.  No one just likes NPR.  If they like it, they LOVE it.

Aubrey: First,  Christian Slater is all over NPR.  Second, so is murder.  Third, with a weekly audience to NPR stations at 34 million I’m not sure “cult” is the right word.  You mean a large group of enthusiastic and incredibly loyal followers.  Yes, I’m sure that’s what you mean. Read more