About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Friday, March 16, 2018

An off-Broadway lesson on personalization: the selfie project

Back in December I saw “In and Of Itself,” the one-man show by Derek Delgaudio off-Broadway in New York City. I was utterly awed by this show, both the concept and the performance. Perhaps you have seen, on social media, images of Neil Patrick Harris, the show’s producer, holding a small card that proclaims “I AM an individual.” The whole show, all of the stories and the magic, evolve from and respond to the individuals in the audience. All audience members, as they enter the theater, select a card that they decide defines them. My chosen card said “I AM an innovator” because I had recently returned from the Google Innovator Academy in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of the show, Delgaudio jokes that some people may have snarkily chosen their card seeking to be something funny, like a ninja, while others may have chosen a card that is something they aspire to be, and still others a card that proclaims who or what they are. Regardless, he reminds us, each member of the audience selected a card for personal reasons that the rest of us would never know.

You might be wondering what does this has to do with libraries or school or teaching. My answer is: Everything. If Delgaudio can personalize a 75-minute long show in response to an audience of 200 or so strangers (give or take for the smattering of celebrities who attend the shows), then we can personalize our instruction for the 25 or so students in our classes whom we see daily and know by name. Whose data we review and analyze. Who spend more waking hours of their day in shared space with us than with anyone else close to them in their lives. At the end of the day, we want them to have conversations like this:

LEE: Hi!!! It’s been awhile! How are you? I just wanted to text you to see your thoughts on Derek Delgaudio’s show! As you may remember I’m a magician, and Derek is actually a friend of mine, he was my counselor for years at camp. I’m seeing his show again next week.

ME: Get out of town! I thought the show was amazing. We talked about it all night and for days
afterwards. It still comes up periodically in conversation and certainly resonates with me with things I read as you can see from my posts on Facebook. What a privilege for you to study with him! And of course I remember you are a magician, I could never forget!

LEE: Haha I’m so happy to hear you love it, I think it was a phenomenal show magic wise and theater wise. The ending was beyond beautiful, and I think the last moment of the show is jaw dropping. It’s so cool how the show extends out of itself too, with the brick leaving the theater, and having someone come to the next show, that’s just genius

ME: Yes, on all counts! I just love that I am constantly reminded in my daily interactions from having seen that show that everybody I encounter is more and different than what I think they are upon first glance or even if I have known them for a very long time.

LEE: I love that you got that out of the show, magicians just can’t normally give an audience a good message besides “haha I fooled you”....

LEE: What “I am” card did you choose?

ME: I chose innovator. I don't know if you know, but I was accepted into the Google innovator Academy and went to Stockholm to study this past October. And then when he asked people to stand if what they chose is how they see themselves, I stayed in my seat because I decided that being a Google innovator is a label someone else has given me and I am still aspiring to deserve it…. When you see him can you tell him that an aspiring innovator who is also a high school librarian in Connecticut is still thinking about the messages of his show and will for quite some time into the future.

LEE: Of course I heard! Congratulations! And I’m rly interested in that way of thinking. Of course I’ll tell him for you! ...

This is the transcript of a Facebook messenger chat I had with a former student who saw my social media post about seeing the show. Parts of the chat have been removed to prevent show spoilers, but the spirit of the chat is in tact. I have included this chat, with Lee’s permission, because it shows a teacher-student relationship outside of the classroom and because the interaction was made possible by a social media connection. Lee and I first shared a classroom, classmates, and a curriculum. Now we safely and respectfully share a digital space.

This dialogue with Lee helped me articulate for myself the ironically simple lessons I have taken from Delgaudio’s performance and translate those lessons into teaching and librarianship. What follows is an exploration of a way I am collaborating with a teacher of AP English to apply these lessons to the students’ examination of Transcendentalism. First, the lessons (in no particular order):

Lesson 1: Be authentic. Share stories from your life so that your collaborators (students and teachers) understand your backstory. It is impossible to develop empathy otherwise.

Lesson 2: Acknowledge, then disregard, your preconceptions. We all have them and they limit how well we can understand each other.

Lesson 3: Magic inspires awe. Embrace wonderment. It leads to questioning, theorizing, teamwork, and problem solving. It may not lead to “right” answers, and it doesn’t have to.

Lesson 4: Timing is everything! Capitalize on the moment. Know where the students are and meet them there. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

My co-teacher in this exercise is a highly-regarded veteran educator. Her background in the pop culture publishing world helps her bring an edge to her curriculum application that students appreciate. We have only known each other for six months. While she has invited me to teach lessons in one of her classes, we have just begun to transition from me as guest teacher to us as co-teachers. And this is the first time she has opened her high stakes, AP class to working with me. Transcendentalism is perfect content fodder for applying the four lessons.

The students will read and unpack Emerson and Thoreau’s consideration of self. The students are discussing the musings of two men who, more than 150 years ago, dedicated themselves to understanding the nature of intellect, the connections between humans, and what it means to be self-actualized. Needless to say, this is a stretch for 17 year olds. Thoreau, at least, disconnected himself from organized society to get in touch with himself and the natural world. Disconnect is not something digital teens do often or willingly. But portrayals of self are something they do constantly. So selfies and snapchats are our authentic route by which to bring transcendental thinking to the digital teen.

With fidelity to the TPACK model of educator collaboration, the English teacher will guide the students through a viewing of Into the Wild and an application of Emerson and Thoreau to Chris McCandless. They will also be reading the article from the May 21, 2009 New York Times called “The Case for Working with Your Hands”. As colleague says, working with your hands is “a very Thoreauvian thing to do.” This means the students are coming to work in the makerspace!

We are starting with a consideration of the art of portraiture and these guiding questions:
How do artists and photographers capture the essence of a person?
Has the artist captured not the person but whom we want the person to be?
Or, do we not matter and the artist portrays the subject as the artist wants the subject to be seen?
Students will apply these questions to various portraits and self-portraits including Arnold Newman’s iconic photograph of Alfried Krupp, Annie Liebowitz photographs of Patti Smith and both a Frida Kahlo self-portrait and a still from the movie starring Selma Hayek in which the painting of that self-portrait is portrayed. Artists have been making selfies for centuries; these are the ones we selected because the content of each will likely resonate with our students (Lessons 1 and 4).

Now we will turn the students to examine different conscious and unconscious ways they are portrayed and in the interest of time, the introspection and artifact collection that must occur in preparation for the final project will be facilitated through a series of shortscreen casts, thus flipping the classroom and allowing for private reflection on the nature of self. For each type of portrayal we will both share a piece of our own story (Lesson 1). We will start with student data. Between Naviance, PowerSchool, and College Board, there is lots of data that is compiled to tell a story of each of these students -- both as individuals and as part of an aggregate. They will collate their data and decide, “If all we know about you is your data… who are you?” (Lesson 2)

Next we will turn to their playlists and ask them to consider what do their video and music preferences say about them? “If all we know about you is your playlists… who are you?” Related to their playlists is the constructed reality of their social media self-portraits. After they review what they think are their important posts on a variety of platforms, they will decide: “When you post on social media, what narrative of your life or yourself are you creating?” (Lesson 4)

Next, we will turn to the tangible. Students will inventory their bedrooms making a list of what they find there and respond to this question: “If all we know about you is the contents of this space… who lives there?” Finally, we want them to collect their school pictures, arrange them from youngest to oldest, and when they see them in sequence consider what story they tell (Lesson 1).

Have you noticed an absence of Lesson 3? Here it comes!

Now the students are ready to get Thoreauvian. It is time for them to unpack themselves. Using all the information about themselves that they have curated: their data, their playlists, their social media, the artifacts in their rooms, and their school pictures, they are going to answer these questions:

What do you:
Hope? Fear? Believe? Desire? Wonder? Deny? Aspire? Want? Plan? Anticipate? Avoid? Regret?


Each response must include evidence from their curated information and artifacts.

And now it is time to create! The class will visit the makerspace to create a selfie, a tangible representation of all that it means to be them. They can use light and sound, texture, mixed media, positive and negative space, and all the possibilities of their imagination (Lesson 3). They might compose and shoot their own photographic portrait, or create a mixed media representation of themselves, or build a sculpture, or something else we can’t anticipate. In other words, your self, in tangible relief. It will be magical and they will appreciate that there is so much more to them and each other than can possibly fit on one card.

No comments:

Post a Comment