Multimedia in the Writing Classroom

When I talk to a good friend who is a long-time writing teacher, I am so impressed hearing him talk about how he uses music, among other media, in the classroom. His knowledge of music is broad and deep, and he seems to really keep up. I feel like I am stuck somewhere in either 1981 (when I graduated college) or 1991 (when my first son was born). As a result, I hesitate to bring music into the classroom. I can count on one hand times in the recent few years when I discussed music with a student, and it was music from my era not theirs (Led Zeppelin, Paul Butterfield).

But I have had good luck with using videos. Last semester, in connection with reading A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, I had my students watch parts of Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. I *think* it contributed to the discussion. I *think* it brought them to a quicker and perhaps deeper understanding of the magnitude of Katrina, but honestly I do not know. In total, three classes read the book with me, and I consider two of the classes to have good success with it, but the third not so much.

What seems to work better for me are very practical videos, instructional almost. I wish I could link to a very short video about Einstein, but it is gone from Youtube. What it did very well was explain some thinking that Einstein perhaps was on the Autism spectrum. It did it in very clear, specific language and with excellent examples. I used to show it when students were at the point in the semester where I have drilled development into them so much they are probably ready to throw their pens at me, so perhaps a video like that shows–better than I tell–how to develop the right detail for a freshman essay.

I mention this in part because I am sitting in my home office next to my newly acquired turntable, listening to some vinyl I haven’t listened to in more than 25 years. The richness of sound. The polyphony. The warmth of some music, the intensity of other music. It moves me. Maybe it’s time for me to reinvest. Learn some new things. My professor friend has students develop a mix tape of their music. Maybe that’s beyond what I can do in the class. But maybe have them bring one song into the discussion.

Will mull over this one…

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