Tag Archive for Essential Questions

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.

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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. 

QR Codes: Journals & Openers

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Sometimes I feel at the beginning of class that my act is huge flop.  It’s tough to know how to start.  Classroom management, attention and engagement rarely occur simultaneously.   And no matter the variety of journal prompts or moral/ethical debates outlined students frequently treat this “opening” work like a chore.

Within this realm, QR codes can become an incredibly practical application.  Imagine being able to implement media literacy along with student choice.  Imagine a written response or evaluation.  Imagine students happy to discuss in small groups or with the class as a whole their own perspective on the podcast or video that they digested after scanning a QR Code.

Opening Activity: Choose Your Own Adventure

Okay so not every student will chortle with delight when you explain that “adventure” in this case means choosing their own QR Code.  But you will peak their interest when you explain that these QR cods will take them to a short podcast or video that will require to explore a moral/ethical dilemma or an area of focus your are currently studying.   Using the QR code is simply the vehicle via which they begin an opening critical thinking exercise.  The goal is not to replace writing.  Instead the end result should be a list of student constructed essential questions and a written argument about the material.  Below is an example of what this type of lesson demands of students.

  1. Ask in advance that students bring headphones and Smartphones
  2. Provide students 2-3 QR codes from which to choose.   Each QR code should direct them to a short video or short podcast that raises big picture issues.  TED’s “short talks” would be a good resource from which to select or UPENN’s 60 Second Lectures.  If you’re teaching poetry you might provide QR codes that link to episode’s of NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Kellior.
  3. Ask that students listen to or watch their choice at least twice.
  4. Have them complete a listening, questioning and reviewing activity in their journals.

While this is simple it will help jump-start your class.  Pick videos or podcasts that complement the material you are teaching or that highlight a skill set students are practicing.  Here is an QR JOURNALS Example.

Poetry: Billy Collins & Media Literacy

Billy Collins is my favorite poet.  This is neither unique or of great, vast insight.  To deny Billy Collins is to deny the art of poetry, poet laureates and Poetry 180.  But part of what truly makes me love Billy Collins is his role in shaping popular culture when it comes to poetry.  Since this week’s posts examine poetry through the lens of media, Billy Collins is a worthy focus.  More than anything else he is a poet in the public eye.

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Collins is well-known.  See his You Tube highlights or any of his featured spots on A Prairie Home Companion if you don’t believe it.  But what makes him an appropriate topic for our focus this week on poetry and media literacy has to do with how we see his poetry “interpreted.”

Consider using the lesson below to supplement a poetry unit that already focuses on Billy Collins.  Or, use one of his pieces of poetry as a starting point, and after introducing his work, use this lesson to raise larger questions about poet, media and culture. Read more