Monday, January 14, 2019

YouTube Teaching and Learning

As an Old, I had a hard time accepting YouTuber as a job description. I didn't understand YouTube or what it could be. What it is for an entire generation. It's entertainment at your fingertips. It's more than TV ever was to people my generation because we had to wait for our shows to be on. For a long time I thought of YouTube as a place for cat videos and nonsense. It wasn't "real" content. How could it be, it was just some thing on the internet?

I like being wrong.

As a teacher I am constantly striving to go outside of the education space for inspiration and revitalization. Not everything I do is connected to teaching at the outset, but nearly everything I do echoes back into my classroom in some way. I see this, by the way, as very different from the Always Be Teaching narrative some Thought Leaders try to sell. I don't go into things thinking about them like a teacher, but I also can't stop my brain from finding the connections that impact my teaching. It's all about operating on multiple levels are trying to be a well-rounded human person. And yes, if feels dumb to have to make this distinction but, well, you've been in those keynotes and read those blog posts too.

I think there is a lot for us to learn from YouTube and YouTubers. I do not mean this in the "Watch these videos in class way, either", though I absolutely would show them in class if I thought I could. There is a depth and breadth to critical conversations happening on YouTube that constantly has me reassessing how I teach reading text and thinking critically. I want to highlight three specific channels that I think teachers should be watching and learning from.

The first is Movies With Mikey on the FilmJoy channel. The concept behind Movies with Mikey is the host, Mikey Neumann, picks a film or occasionally a genre that he feels passionate about and deconstructs it piece by piece, investigating both why it works as a film and why it works for him. In watching his videos I've found even more reasons to love films I already thought were perfect like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz (yes, and everything else Edgar Wright has ever done because he's brilliant), The Last Jedi, and the Harry Potter films, which he just finished a massive three video series on. There's a depth of investigation in these videos that any one of us would be head over heels to see from a student. The mix of personal introspection, technical knowledge, and a genuine love of film creates the perfect chemical reaction and before long you will find yourself pouring through his videos and hoping that any favorite of yours has gotten the MwM treatment.

It is through this lens that not only do I gain a new appreciation for things that I love, but I'm able to see the new ways my students and I can investigate things. The wide world of options when it comes to thinking about texts, any texts, and how students can imbue these reflections with their own personalities. Because YouTube itself is a mix of content and personality. This is not unique to the medium, television is full of people who had to not only be good that their jobs, but be creative at them, and the service industries of Hollywood and New York are littered with people who were either one or the other but not both. I have students who want to be YouTubers, and I can't scoff at that like it's not a real option. It's as viable as hitting it big in TV, although there are a billion YouTubers so you actually have to be real good to break out of the fray. I can tie that to the content in my classroom six ways from Sunday...if Sunday was a school day. Which is isn't. Check out Mikey. You won't regret it.

Lindsay Ellis also talks mostly about films and deconstructs them in creative ways. She has a relaxed we're-all-the-same-room-together-chatting style that appeals to me, and, just like the best we're-all-chatting-in-a-room conversations, all of the sudden we're talking about serious stuff, digging in, getting deep, and loving it. One of my favorite examples of the creative ways Lindsay breaks down complex concepts is her series The Whole Plate: Film Studies Through A Lens of Transformers. Yes, she uses Micheal Bay's Transformers films as a way to give a detailed film studies course. Ever wanted to know way too much about how films are made, why the choices made by filmmakers matter, and how feminism and social justice fit into all that, while also talking about giant messy robot movies that you don't have to like? This series is for you. This is the kind of appealing to the populace to make a deeper point thinking that teachers who use PokemonGo or Fortnite in their classrooms can only dream of because this comes from a place of love and understanding for all facets of the subject matter. 

One of my favorite videos of Lindsay's is called Mel Brooks, The Producers, and the Ethics of Satire About N@zis. We've all agreed that you could never make The Producers or Blazing Saddles today. But why? Is it the content, the point of view, the voice, the filmmaker? Why can Mel Brooks put a song called "Springtime For Hitler" in his movie/play/movie and it plays like gangbusters? Satire is hard to do right and frighteningly easy to do poorly. If I taught high school  or college writing there is a 100% chance I would find an excuse to use this video. It's not good enough that things work, we should think about why they work. Lindsay makes me think about that, and that translates into the stories I'm reading to my kids, with my kids, and that fill my textbooks and class library. We should investigate all those things, and YouTube creators like her help me do that better than I had before.

The third and final channel I want to highlight is not another film channel, it's a music one. Lost In Vegas is a channel where two friends, Ryan and George, watch and listen to music outside of their familiarity to broaden their horizons and in an effort understand why some things get so much love. I do not understand the Reaction Video genre as a whole. I don't get why people record themselves watching trailers or why people watch them. I'd guess that 99% of those are staged or planned in some way, they feel so artificial. Ryan and George are as genuine as it gets. 

Two confessed outsiders to the metal and hard rock genres, these videos consist of them listening to songs suggested by their followers, and then honestly trying to find the value in those songs. The reason it works is because they are open about not getting it when they don't get it, but they also never give up on a song or a band. The best example of this I can think of is the reaction video for the Cannibal Corpse song "Hammer Smashed Face". If you don't know Cannibal Corpse, all you need to know is when I say "picture death metal" what you picture is them. Exactly. Don't change a note. Buzzsaw guitars and Cookie Monster vocals. Ryan and George tried so hard to be open to this. You can see them listening intently, taking the music in, trying to find a groove to hook onto. And then the vocal kick in. 
The "WTF" moment
What you're seeing here is their faces about three seconds after the vocals start, which is right around the time it dawns on them that yes, those are the vocals. That's not an instrument or an effect, that's the singer. It's a perfect moment. They listen to the whole song, they even dive into the lyrics. They give the song more of a chance that I do, and I like (parts of) this genre of music. Complete open-mindedness, making a real effort to dig in and discover why other people like it. In comparison, their Metallica reaction videos are always right on and especially validating as a Metallica fan. Because yes, the band is the greatest metal band in the world for a reason, and that reason is anyone who gives them a chance can see why they're great. You don't need to love basketball to appreciate LeBron, you don't need to love metal to hear Master of Puppets and know it's special. 
The "I understand" moment
The lesson of this channel is keep your mind open and your ears open and who knows what you'll find to love. As a teacher constantly in search of things to do in my classroom that will challenge my student and myself, there's no better reminder. As a teacher who wants this for my students, I would love to show them these videos. I don't think I can, because I'd have to edit for language, so instead I use the channel to remind myself to be open about my journey with my kids, to model, as Ryan and George are modeling, the value of being willing to hear and truly listen. To look for the good in something that I don't understand. This doesn't mean they like everything, there's plenty of songs they get to the end of and decide, "Nope, not for me." But that's not the point, the point is in the trying of it. They've even gone back to bands they didn't like for second rounds just to try again. Oh, and they understand the power and perfection of Rush, which means they are intelligent and excellent humans. 

I am a better teacher when I leave the education space and investigate my own interests, chase rabbit trails, and open myself to things, and then allow those things to naturally find their ways into my teaching. Honorable mention to Rob Scallon as well, who I'm really into right now but this blog is long enough as it is. Watch this video of him using music theory to make beautiful music without being able to hear it, get hooked, watch all his other stuff. Do you have a favorite YouTuber you'd like to share? Throw it in the comments. 

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

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