YouTube: because Wikipedia is too hard

Let me begin by giving some context. I was teaching poetry to a class of bored looking Year 9’s (I’m not certain Year 9’s can look anything other than tots bored with life). The focus of the lesson was on poetic devices. When I came to onomatopoeia, I played a YouTube clip of the 1960’s Batman and Robin series (, in which Batman and boy wonder bash, crash and bop all manner of sidekicks, henchmen and eventually The Joker himself. I deliberately use this clip because not only does demonstrate onomatopoeia, albeit in a less than sophisticated manner, it is also a guaranteed alarm clock. Students immediately sit up and listen when a video is played, especially a video as ‘lame’ as the old Batman series starring Adam West.

After the lesson had finished, I reflected on my way to the coffee machine that You Tube has become a very important weapon in my teaching arsenal and why not? My students use it all the time, it is very much part of their everyday experience. A few days later for example, I was teaching something or other, and the class did not believe something I said.

“Fine,” I said, “Google it!” Most the class couldn’t be bothered but I noticed that one student actually avoided Google and went straight to YouTube. He proved me right, of course, but it was an eye opening moment for me. Perhaps, reading is being entirely replaced by viewing for these young people?

We already know that while young people use the internet as a quick and easy source of information (Rowlands, 2008), we also know that they are very poor and evaluating the usefulness and accuracy of this information, and I think that this must be especially true of YouTube.  Of greater concern perhaps is that this might become a new trend, bypassing reading information in favour of viewing snippets and soundbites.

We already place a great deal of emphasis on encouraging students to evaluate the validity of their sources but I am beginning to think that perhaps we should start this process sooner in a child’s educational journey, however, I think that we may be too late in some circumstances and that the bats have flown the Batcave.

Works Cited

Rowlands, I. N. (2008). The Google generation: The information behaviour of the researcher of the future. London: Aslib Proceedings.

YouTube: because Wikipedia is too hard

Cartoon culture for critical thinking

As a child I had two favourite cartoons, Danger Mouse, produces by Cosgrove Films and a wonderfully eccentric British cartoon called Banana man. Both shows were uniquely and unashamedly British, in a time when most cartoons were produced by Hannah-Barba , Disney or in some cases seemingly, toy companies. As such, my favourites tended to be irreverent and delightfully funny parodies of film and television.

Recently I discovered that one could watch episodes of these shows on the internet. Nostalgia aside, it proved to be an enlightening experience because, unsurprisingly perhaps, I missed most of the jokes as a child. For example, Danger Mouse resides in a post box 221B Baker Street, Marylebone, London. Presumably, the post box used by fellow super sleuth, Sherlock Homes. Danger Mouse himself works as a hero only because the audience are familiar with that other great British spy, James Bond. Indeed, Danger Mouse is so full of intertextuality that I could be used to teach, well, intertextuality.

Comedy and cartoons rely on the audience’s ability to make intertextual links. Indeed, the entire spoof genre, such as The Hungover Games (2010), relies on the ability of the audience to recognise and react to the intended humour by having an understating and appreciation of the original texts, which in this case was the Hunger Games and The Hangover. Danger Mouse therefore, is in many ways a parody of James Bond and the spy genre while Banana-Man is a send up of the superhero genre, only with some British absurdity (for when he eats a banana, Eric becomes Banana-Man) thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps the most successful carton that parodied other shows and genres was that great institution, The Simpsons. Gray (2006) summed up this parody as:

The Simpson’s family home, at 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield is in many ways a parodic and mischievously dystopian recasting of the warm, embryonic homes and environments of American televisions history’s famous sitcom families such as the Cosby’s (p.44)

Indeed, if ever a show managed to capture the zeitgeist of an era then it is the Simpsons.

So I ask you ,why we are not engaging with the cartoons of the generation that we teach. Why are we no considering Teen Titans Go as alternative readings to the superhero genre? Why are we not considering Adventure Time when we discuss Joseph’s Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces?

Works Cited

Gray, J. (2006). Watching with the Simpsons. Boston: Routledge.

Cartoon culture for critical thinking

A honest post

I’m going to be totally frank: I do not like blogs. It is probably why this assignment was a victim of procrastination to the nth degree.

It is not that I think blogs are necessarily a bad idea, quite the opposite, in a good writers hands or under the tutelage of certain teachers, I think blogs can be very powerful. Unfortunately, I feel that most blogs are self-indulgent and boring, and that they seldom work within a classroom context.

It is not for want of trying to use blogs in the classroom. A few years ago now, I attended a professional development opportunity whereby a young teacher demonstrated how she used blogs and blogging throughout an English unit on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I was inspired and immediately set about reshaping a unit of Lord of the Flies by William Golding so that it included a weekly forum and blog post. I set pre-reading, found videos and posted models of the assignment, just as the young lady had done. I encouraged student to post their work and provide feedback on each other’s comments. I emailed parents and invited them to view the educational wonder of a blog. And it failed. Miserably.

My weekly blog post, designed to generate discussion and feedback was met with general malaise and outright apathy. Some students made an initial effort to respond but most answered in a half-hearted manner and some didn’t respond at all. These students were issued a consequence and their parents informed.

I redoubled my efforts. I told the class the about the value of embarking on a learning journey together but they asked if we could watch the film rather than read the text. I demanded that they treat the blog as a vital part of their learning and they asked if it was for marks. I reminded them that by participating in the blogging process, there were in a sense practising for their assignment. They said they’d rather just do their actual assignment.

I gave up and gave in. The following year I tried blogging again and with much the same result.


Upon reflection, this experience was invaluable for my perception of my students. I discovered that despite the fact that social media allows us to share almost anything, these online personas are controlled and managed (HJVV) whereas the sharing of intellectual thoughts with peers, is not only far more confronting but also far more potentially damaging. Seo (2013, p.52) cautioned that blogs may be problematic for some students: “just the anticipation of having private thoughts and reflections exposed…might inhibit the reflective process”, and I concur. One student even said to me that he preferred it when I just taught rather than trying to blog my way through a term.

Which leads me to the second thing that I discovered and that is the importance of remaining professionally true to oneself. I am simply not the kind of teacher who uses blogs. That is not say that I will not try new things, on the contrary, I always keen for an innovation that makes my job easier, but I found that blogging distracted me from actual teaching. A reminder perhaps to not be taken in by shiny new technologies.

Blogs have their place in the classroom. The article by Wickens et al (2015) details an excellent example of how one middle school teacher effectively integrated blogging into her pedagogy and perhaps one day I’ll revisit blogging but for the time being I remain unconvinced.

Works Cited

Seo, K. (2013). Using Social Media Effectively in the Classroom: Blogs, Wikis, Twitter and more. New York: Routledge.

Wickens, C. M., Manderino, M., & Glover, E. A. (2015, March). Developing disciplinary literacy through classroom blogging. Voices from the Middle, 22(3), 24-32.

A honest post

Memes – For when words are few

I love memes. The idea that a message can be conveyed in an agreed upon picture and a short slogan is very appealing. So much so that I once argued, albeit tong firmly in cheek, that memes are a very modern form of poetry. Granted, it is hardly Paradise Lost but the rise of internet mem culture is illustrative of the participatory culture that Henry Jenkins referred to on his blog (Jenkins, 2006), whereby media consumers have evolved into media participants.

Another big academic player, Richard Dawkins, was the first to define the word meme, when he proposed that memes are the transmission of “ideas, tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches (Dawkins, 2006). It is an apt description then for the rapid manner in which ideas are spread via internet memes but a meme is not limited to a captioned photo or a grumpy cat. Perhaps the best definition that I can find is “a piece of digital content that spreads quickly around the web in various iterations and becomes a shared cultural experience” (Shifman, 2014). Thus, Gangnam Style, grumpy cat and Pepe become part of our shared cultural experience, whether we like it or not.

So how can teachers use and develop memes? I’m fond of saying the following to my classes “I’m down with kids, or in with kids, or up with the kids…or whatever preposition the kids are using these days? Kids still use prepositions don’t they!?” It is a lame joke based on the fact that teachers cannot be anything but ‘daggy.’ However, to extend the joke I developed the following memes as part of my classroom management strategy:


These are as lame as my jokes and were met with a groan rather than a laugh but this was exactly the response I was hoping for. It is important that teachers connect somehow with the generation they are teaching and it is more often than not humour that makes this connection.  As Dunbar (2012) states: “when teachers use humour, students see the classroom as more informal, supportive and innovative than when teachers do not use humour.” Memes are not poetry, but they are useful tool for teachers

Works Cited

Dawkins, R. (2006). The Selfish Gene (30th anniversay edition). London: Oxford University Press.

Dunbar, N. (2012). Humour use in power-differentiated interactions. Humor, 25(4), 469-489.

Jenkins, H. (2006, June 19). Welcome to Convergence Culture. Retrieved from Confessions of an Aca-fan: The official weblog of Henry Jenkins:

Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in Digital Culture. Boston: MIT Publishing.

Memes – For when words are few