Television in the Classroom: An Update on How This Old Prof Learned A New Trick

by Lynn Clement


A couple posts ago I wrote about a fabulous show I’d found on Netflix and the excitement it inspired in me to use television in the classroom, something I rarely do.  I’ve noticed, as I examine my approach to teaching (and its evolution over the past 15 years) that I often need to fight against the traditional way my own collegiate education was administered.  During undergrad and graduate school my professors followed a very teacher centered pedagogy in which the instructor was in control of the communication of knowledge.  Lectures were the primary, and often the only, class format. While this had (and has) its merits, I’ve found that this approach works less and less the longer I teach.  Although lecturing still has a place in my classroom, active student-centered learning makes up the majority of my class.  Large and small group discussions in which students are asked to lead has been incredibly successful this semester largely due to the stellar group of intelligent and talkative students I’m working with.  Despite my evolution in how I structure my class, and despite the wonderful new material available, I have remained hesitant to incorporate film, television, podcasts, and the like, into my curriculum. Gfp-lecture-hall

Luckily, this old salt has learned much from her contemporaries and acknowledges that the types of educational materials my professors would have spurned are valuable sources to take advantage of, especially with all the new technology available in the lecture hall.  Thus, when I came across an art history related program on Netflix I knew it was finally time to give it a try.  To recap, briefly, from my previous post “Fake or Fortune is a BBC program hosted by journalist, Fiona Bruce and art dealer, Philip Mould.  The two come together, along with various researching side-kicks, to investigate the style, material, and provenance of art works in order to determine their authenticity.”    Last week I finally had the opportunity to test this show in the classroom, and I am happy to report that it was huge success.

So, here I am to give you the update, just in case you also need an excuse to let your students watch tv in the classroom.  First, and I think this was extremely important, I explained the reason I was excited for them to watch. I often do this when discussing what we do in class, or when discussing what requirements I’ve included in the syllabus.  Showing this show wasn’t to give me a break or to fill up time.  I discussed the merits of the show and how it would reveal to them the various ways in which art historians come up with and research a topic.  This was especially timely since we had just discussed their final research project. Film_projector

Next, as we were watching I utilized the wipe board and wrote down the research process as we saw it unfold.  The show is very compelling so it would be easy to get caught up in the “history mystery” and forget how these researchers were uncovering information.  I was able to pinpoint how these researchers developed a topics, how they came up with the questions they wanted answered, when and where they found clues, how they followed that up with research into primary and secondary sources, and how those questions and answers changed as more information was uncovered.  My students were able to see how the show arrived at its “thesis statement” and, again, how they were able to uncover appropriate information that could support, or shift, the main idea.  I have to admit that deconstructing the show helped my students, and myself, rediscover the important process that goes into quality research and writing, setbacks included.

After the conclusion, we not only discussed the content of the show, but also the process that they had seen.  We talked about what surprised them, what confused them, and what excited them about both the research and the outcome.  All in all, I would say that it was a huge success and it made me realize that I had been remiss in overlooking television and film as an important part of the learning process.  While reading a research paper (examples of which I provide each semester) is great at conveying your expectations of the product, being able to see people research conveys important lessons on how that research project actually came together.  As we continued to talk about their ideas I saw that my students seemed more excited and more confident about how they were to go forward.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am happy to say I am a changed woman and I think my students, present and future, will be equally happy about this.  So, now I’m curious to what else I’ve been missing all these years.  What films, shows, podcasts, etc. do you use in the classroom?  How have you found them helpful?  I would love to learn more from you, dear reader.

 

To Do it Better: Teaching the History of Slavery

Courtesy Library of Congress

Note: I’m taking a brief break from my recent series on the women’s history course I’m teaching. I’ll provide a final update on the course next time I write here, but today I want to talk about teaching something else: the history of slavery in the United States.

Do you remember when and how you first learned about slavery? I don’t. I wish I could say I remember, but I have no memory of when I first read descriptions of slavery and enslavement, nor how I felt about it. I suspect this is not uncommon for white people like myself who grew up after the Civil Rights Movement seemed to end, and as school bussing began declining in the late 1980s and 1990s. There was also the matter of geography: my parents knew few black people, having grown up in Southern California (dad) and Northern Iowa (mom), and until I was 15, we lived in places that tended to be majority white or Latinx.

I can count on one hand the number of African American people I knew before I started college, including a friend when I was six or seven, and a youth minister when I was 15. Even my reading was pretty whitewashed: I know I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels, but I have more vivid memories of Nancy Drew books and my obsession with British books (Secret Garden, A Little Princess…). I didn’t encounter A Raisin in the Sun until college. Probably the only thing I can tell you for sure is that I did somehow learn that slavery caused the Civil War, although I spent more time visiting battlefields than reading about the causes of the war. I know my historical knowledge expanded in undergrad, where I first encountered the concepts of analyzing race, gender, and class, and certainly graduate school deepened my knowledge and understanding much further.

Last year, I returned to teaching US History after several years of teaching only world history. Coming back to my specialty area was exciting, but also thought-provoking, as I worked to develop a new honors-level US history course that would spin off of AP US History (the class prepares students for that exam, while not being specifically an AP class). Over and over again, I found myself disappointed in how poorly I was teaching my students about the history of slavery. I could blame the AP curriculum, on the one hand, because there was so much to go through that it didn’t seem like it could be helped on the one hand, but on the other hand – that’s not the right place to direct the blame. As a result of this, I started a personal effort to better understand and teach the history of slavery to my students. It began with a lot of reading, beyond what I’d studied in grad school, to look more deeply at what I thought I knew, and how I’ve approached that in the classroom.

Continue reading “To Do it Better: Teaching the History of Slavery”

Finding the Possible Value of TV in the Classroom

by Lynn Clement


In addition to chemotherapy and radiation, self-care has been an important part of my cancer treatment.  Self-care can be difficult for many of us, despite how important it is, because of the expectation that we stay busy on productive, worthwhile activities.  Thus, for me, self-care often means exercise and reading-both useful and relaxing.  However, another soothing activity is watching television…way too much television.  Needless to say, I am at odds with this habit.  With access to Netflix, Hulu, AmazonPrime, HBO-GO, etc. it’s rare that I can’t find something to distract and entertain at any given moment.  However, while in graduate school a beloved professor/mentor likened watching television during the day to drinking before 5pm.  As someone who does most of their work at home, this slightly nagging inner voice prevented me from diversions that would have interfered with work.

photo of cup near flat screen television
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However, does watching tv and doing something valuable have to be mutually exclusive?  After a particularly difficult day of doctor appointments, and after having already binged the new episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, I happened upon a show entitled “Fake or Fortune”.   “Fake or Fortune” is a BBC program hosted by journalist, Fiona Bruce and art dealer, Philip Mould.  The two come together, along with various researching side-kicks, to investigate the style, material, and provenance of art works in order to determine their authenticity.  From the start I was hooked, not only because I’m an art historian but also because the art mysteries were hugely entertaining.  However, the more I watched, the more I saw the value in the series also as a teaching tool.

Bruce and Mould, along with historians, curators, art historians, scientists, gallery owners, cultural institutions, and librarians, show the lengthy and laborious process of research.  What a gift this could be to students who struggle with exactly that.  The hosts, and hosts of scholars who help them along, rely on interviews with collectors, connoisseurs, and curators.  They dig through insurance inventories, gallery archives, and sales receipts.  They travel to local libraries, foreign countries, and scientific labs to find clues in the unlikeliest of places.  Perhaps most important in its accessibility to the viewer is the way they present research as a fun, and important, investigation.

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Again, the more episodes I watched, the more I saw how I could use this in the classroom and how it could help my students in their approach to historical research. Although I have passed shied away from the use of videos in the classroom, and certainly pop culture programs such as this one,  I plan to show my students an episode in the next few weeks.  I’ll have to leave this post on a bit of a cliff-hanger (the value is currently in its theory stage), but my theory is that viewing research through this new lens will help them in their own projects.  At the least, they will get a fuller sense of what goes into the research process; it’s just not lonely hours in a library with mountains of monographs.  Research is also talking to people, reading journals, watching documentaries, looking at photographs, collaborating people in and outside your field, and confronting preconceived notions and hopes.

I’ve been taking a break from my own personal research projects during treatment, but watching tv has me getting excited about them again.  Wait…did I just tun my only self-care guilty pleasure into work?  Oh well.

woman covering face with book on bed
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Cancer and Contingency

by Lynn Clement


Dear Reader,

It’s been a while.  Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I have.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and put my thoughts to paper and today I do so for release.  Writing functions as such an important catharsis for me, which is why I was so desperate to get back to the page after a very long, and unexpected, writing hiatus.

I wish I could say it was for exciting reasons, but alas, it was not. As you read in my last post, 2019 started out much the same as it always has, but it did not maintain its mundanity.  The next post I had planned to write was going to feature the professional conference I attended in February. Instead, directly after that conference, I was confronted with a life changing diagnosis; Colorectal Cancer, Stage IV.

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My chemo ball, worn every two weeks for three days.  My daughter dubbed it “Rolly”.

I tried crying about it for about a week, contemplating my demise, but it didn’t suit me. Neither did eating my feelings instead of writing them down (although mindfully eating a bag of Doritos does have its merits). So here I am, doing something I usually loathe, making my personal life public.  I’ve gone back and forth about this post, and about extending my hiatus, but then I remembered that “the personal is political”, and felt empowered by idea that one’s personal experience can help political or social discourse.  Perhaps that is what I’m supposed to do with this experience.

I finished my 8th and final round of chemo at the end of July and today I start radiation as I also begin another semester teaching art history at 2 community colleges.  My doctors and I have high expectations for remission, but it will be a long road until then.  I remain my optimistic self and fortunately, the nature of my job has allowed me to use the summer to focus on my health and my family.  I was also fortunate that, despite a demanding schedule of chemo, radiation, and surgery, I was, and continue to be, able to work, semi-normally, with the help of my family, friends, and colleagues.  It truly does take a village.

Now let me pause for a moment right here, dear reader, to assure you that this isn’t intended to be a traditional cancer post.  I’m not ready to detail my treatment or any deep insights I may have gained from this humbling experience.  I may never have insights.  I still change the cat litter and my daughter still steals my phone to use the toilet.  I guess at the the least I’ve learned to be thankful that everyone else in this house has a colon functioning better than I.  In addition, I have yet to fully face the fears that come with this disease. Not yet.  I need space from it and time to figure out what my relationship with cancer will be.

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Chemo made me very tired and Hal made for a great napping buddy.

However, fighting cancer has heightened the lens through which I view the world and my own life. Detailing my journey (thus far) to close family and friends, I quickly noticed my over-use of the word “lucky”. Lucky that I had doctors who took me seriously when I told them my pain was unusual.  Lucky that those doctors sprung to action. Lucky my co-workers stepped in to teach the classes I was unable to attend and help me finish my spring semester so I didn’t lose the already tenuous hold I have on my contingent faculty position.  Lucky that my husband has good insurance and kind co-workers as well.  Lucky that I’m surrounded by family that are friends and friends that are family who have come to help take care of me, my child, my house, my cooking and cleaning, because considering hiring help on an adjunct salary is laughable.

As a long-term, career, adjunct professor, I’ve always kept up with information about the status of contingent faculty experiences, but that attention is now focused even more with one question: what if this happens to someone else who isn’t so “lucky”.  The answer to that question isn’t hard to find since my story is not unique.  The death of  Margaret Mary Vojtko sparked much debate about the treatment of adjuncts as did the death of Thea Hunter. Both women had done everything right, in terms of securing degrees and accolades, which should have garnered them success in their respective fields.  Instead, they both died in poverty.  In addition, there are myriad articles detailing the realities of life as a contingent employee, including data on low pay and the need to secure additional jobs to make ends meet, which is easier said than done.

Reflecting on my mortality, and how expendable I seem to be to the field I’ve devoted myself to for decades, has made me realize just how integral I am.  I have been teaching part-time at community colleges and universities in the DMV for about 15 years. At the onset, I felt as many in my position probably have: adjunct work was the consolation prize. I took the abuse about failure and not being good enough to be full time or tenured because I thought I deserved it.

However, while both those things may be true about myself, the statistics about the academic job market reflect that the academic system is also a failure.

Luckily, I’ve stopped thinking of my position in these terms. I am great at what I do: I’m invested in my students, I’m committed to my field, I attend (on my own dime) conferences, symposia, and local lectures that keep me up to date on research and pedagogy, and perhaps most importantly, I fulfill a need in the system.  That’s something that seems to be lost in this: I’m not the desperate one. The adjunct, the graduate student, the post-doc, the non-tenured are not disposable.  Not only is it common decency to provide a living wage and a safety net for any worker, this respect should be given to those upon who we so desperately rely. Instead, so many of us are left to rely on luck.

Despite our part-time status, we are not contingent humans. The problem now resides in a system that has not evolved to understand our power and our worth.  Academia is not doing me a favor. It’s the other way around

Again, I survive the system purely because of luck, but many others do not have the same support system. Thus, we need to come together within the profession. It’s time for us to collectively bargain for rights we deserve. We didn’t lose the game, we didn’t fail, the job system changed, so our approach to it needs to change as well.  I know people will balk at the idea of unionization and detail the varied reasons it won’t fix the problem.  However, at this point we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas. (There really is a Simpsons reference for every occasion).

Luckily, I know I will survive both cancer and a life as an adjunct professor, but I’d like colleagues in a position like mine to have the same outlook.

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Ringing the infusion center’s ceremonial gong to signal my last round.  More victory photos to come…

In addition to writing publicly about this very personal struggle, my cancer diagnosis caused me to do something else uncharacteristic: I purchased a book of encouraging quotes.

             “When you come out of the storm,

               You won’t be the same person

               Who walked in.

               That’s what this storm’s all about.”

                                         -Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

Designing Women, Part II

My main image for organizing the course, with image from Library of Congress

Last month, I wrote about my initial work designing my Intro to History of American Women’s Rights this fall. As I think I hinted at, I want to keep checking in on this course to let you know how it’s going, hold myself accountable through this blogging process, and to document my first opportunity to teach women’s history in a high school setting.

After writing last month, I stepped away from most of my teaching work for the month of July. July became, instead, a month of reading (mostly for school), momming, and just trying to be. (Oh, there was also the several intense weeks when I wrote a book chapter related to my academic research, but that’s another story.)

Last week, I got back into the teacher prep groove a little bit. My son had his final summer camp from 9-3 each day, which gave me a break from #momming (as I’ve taken to calling it) and a few precious hours between drop-off and pick-up to pull together whatever I could. I didn’t start with Women’s History, but it’s where I ended up, and I’m feeling excited about where things landed.

Continue reading “Designing Women, Part II”

Designing Women (Part 1)

Readers, it’s summer. It’s that glorious time when teachers (like me) can kick back, relax, and just be in the peaceful bliss. (At least in theory. You probably already read a bit of my end-of-school angst and excitement here.)

I wound up spending most of my June in reading mode. It became a really good decision for me, because I had piles of pedagogy books I wanted to read and had no idea where to begin with the course planning that I so desperately want to tackle this season (also, when your kid is at a 3-hour-a-day summer camp for a week, books seem more digestible in those short spurts of time).

In the final full week of June, I began to switch gears, and readers, that’s what I wanted to talk about today: designing an intro to women’s history course for high school students.

On my first day of planning, I decided I’d document my efforts on Twitter, mostly in the hopes of keeping myself on track:

Read through to see the thread of what I worked on that day…

All in all, I felt the day was pretty successful. I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted, but I made a good start. Below, I’ll expand on that process, talk about what changed later in the week, and explain where I am now. Hint: if you have ideas/experiences, please @ me!

Continue reading “Designing Women (Part 1)”

The School Year Ends

Dar Williams sings,

The summer ends and we wonder where we are 
And there you go, my friends, with your boxes in your car 
And you both look so young 
And last night was hard, you said 
You packed up every room 
And then you cried and went to bed 
But today you closed the door and said 
“We have to get a move on. 
It’s just that time of year when we push ourselves ahead, 
We push ourselves ahead.”

“The End of Summer”

Every year when summer really does end, those words float back into my head, and they make sense then – but they also make sense now, because the end of the school year feels much the same.

It’s that sense of wistfulness in the face of impending change, which I also catch glimpses of when TS Eliot reminds me that

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  April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, 

“The Waste Land”

For teachers, summer is mostly a hopeful thing – a time of rest, if we’re smart, or exploration, if we’re lucky. It’s a moment to catch our breaths and step out on hiatus from the school building and the classroom and experience our lives in different ways. We bring our heads up from the papers we’ve spent all year marking and our students say good-bye (if we’re fortunate, not forever, but just for now), and we say hello to the million little things we’ve waited months to do. It’s that time to just be us.

Did I mention that sounds easier than it really is? At least for me, and I’m hoping I’m not alone in that.

Continue reading “The School Year Ends”