Archive | November, 2013

Advertising and Persuasion

24 Nov

The newest ad for Goldie Blox has been making quite a splash with the way it transformed the decidedly misogynistic Beastie Boys song, “Girls” into a tribute to girl power.

The commercial got me thinking about how advertisers attempt to persuade us to buy their product.  Usually it’s by convincing us to think a certain way.  For years, Barbie has been sharing a message that girls aspire to be beautiful, have accessories, and a boyfriend with a cool convertible.  Goldie Blox is trying to change the message, with a pretty clear “sayonara” kick to the old stereotype about girls only playing with dolls.

When we talk about visual literacy, being savvy viewers of advertising is one of the things I think of.  Educated consumers should be able to pick apart an advertisement, analyze what the company is claiming, and then decide if they agree.  For example, in the Goldie Blox commercial, there’s a clear pitch that girls want to be builders, innovators, and inventors.  But there’s a subtler message too–they want to do it while still being girls.  The colors of the product are pink, yellow, and purple.  Goldie Blox comes with a cute female heroine and a book about how she has to engineer different systems to save the day.  When I watch the commercial, I think it’s about girl power, but also about the fact that science, engineering, and math can be feminine.

Originally, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast the version of “girls” in the video with the original, but after looking up the lyrics in the original, I changed my mind.  Maybe better to save that analysis for the adults in the room :).

You can also look at different ads in a similar theme.  You can use one of the earlier ads for goldiblocks to again look at how they are dismantling the traditional stereotype of girls toys:

Or you can compare and contrast it with a typical barbie commercial.  Here’s the original commercial from 1959:

Notice the emphasis on “beauty,” “slim,” and the close up on the barbie dressed for her wedding when the song says, “I want to grow up exactly like you.”  Not exactly the same message is it?

Or this 2013 commercial starring Hilary Duff.  The motto is “be who you want to be,” which in Barbie world means pick the colored highlights and outfit you want.

Commercials like these are an engaging way for students to look at how people can use images and words to appeal and send a message.  I might use these to launch a reading unit on persuasion, and then mix and match in some print ads and billboard slogans before moving into some full textual pieces.

Kids Can do the Darndest Things

16 Nov

These two videos have very little to do with one another, except that they each show a 5 year old doing some pretty extraordinary things.

Miles Scott, a five year old in remission from Leukemia, saves SF, aka Gotham City, in his Make-A-Wish dream.


And Arden Hayes shows a better grasp of geography in 5 minutes of talking to Jimmy Kimmel than I’ve ever possessed in my life.  Although, I have trouble finding my way out of my neighborhood so I’m not a great standard to measure against.


Fostering Academic Language

11 Nov

Calvin and Hobbes often gets to the heart of what some students are thinking.  Take this cartoon, on language:

Besides the connects to current verbing trends (google it, xerox it, etc.) the idea that language confuses, rather than clarifies is a common theme for classroom students.  I remember in high school having almost exactly this sentiment:


Academic language is there just to sound fancy, right?

In the higher level grades, this may come from people using high-fallutin’ vocabulary when a few simple words would do just as well.  In the primary grades, I think it comes from students not fully understanding the vocabulary and frames they are using.  A few examples from my room:

Until the alarm went off, she woke up.”

“Too much homework is bad for students.  Furthermore, it makes them go to bed late and get too little sleep.  For example, they might not be able to play outside at all and get exercise if they have to spend all their time doing homework.”

“The dirt and rock depositioned on the ocean floor.”

In each of these examples, the student is close–he’s trying–but he doesn’t exactly have the meaning or use down right.  What results is a confusing piece of language.

Teaching academic language and conversation is hard–as tricky as reading and writing.  Like reading comprehension, its easy to get students partway there and then stuck.

Constructive Classroom Conversations: Mastering Language for the Common Core State Standards, by Kenji Hakuta, Jeff Zwiers and Sara Rutherford-Quach, is a MOOC put out by Stanford university about learning language.  The series has videos discussing the challenges of helping students to use academic language to articulate and grow their ideas, as well as example videos of students having constructive conversations and some ideas for teaching techniques that can help.

The  MOOC pairs nicely with Jeff Zwiers website on Academic Language and Literacy, which has PDFs of many of the strategies mentioned on the site.

What I appreciate about the MOOC and Jeff’s website, is their acknowledgement that getting students to have meaningful conversations is challenging.  When we initiate think-pair-shares or discussions, we often get a conversation that runs in circles or runs out of steam after a few moments.  How do you get students to take ownership of their conversations, build them in strong ways, and begin to use them fluidly?

To increase student engagement, one suggestion was to start with prompts like “create, argue, decide, or solve” rather than “evaluate or analyze.”  One is a call to create something, the other a call to “education-al-ize” it.  A good first step is also to create a humorous example.  My current class is obsessed with alien abductions, so most of our steps into new academic language centers around that.  Example:  EVEN THOUGH you take precautions, you can still be abducted by aliens.  FOR EXAMPLE, an abduction ray can beam straight through your roof, so you can’t protect yourself by locking your door.

Silly, but very engaging, and easy to transfer to content.

Jeff also talks about the need to move beyond sentence frames.  I use a lot of sentence frames–I think they’re a great support for students taking on new language.  I still remember my french teacher in college (the only one I retained any french from) teaching us “academic frames” that we could then throw out at leisure without painstakingly parsing each word.  “Quoi qu’il en soit” (french for: be that as it may) became one of my favorites.  I recognized it everywhere, and I could use it at a moments notice.  There’s no way I could have put that phrase together on my own.

However, eventually we want to pull the frames away and have students take ownership over the language.  How to do that?  Jeff uses strategies like opinion formation cards, and A-B information gap cards, to have students practice building arguments, with frames that they use as needed.  Here they can have the support of a frame, but they need to decide where and when to use them.  It’s a nice intermediary step.

The course and Jeff’s site have more resources worth checking out.  Until then, I’ll leave you with this video on common English problems in school.  It might be an oldie, but it’s still on target!

Don’t You Wish You Persevered Like This?

3 Nov

Mice have a long history of bravery and motivation in books (think The Tale of DesperauxRalph, the Motorcycle Mouse, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). 

Maybe that stereotype comes from real life…

Think about the fun you could have brainstorming the character traits you could assign to this mouse: motivated, perseverant, strategic, determined.   My husband and I actually cheered out loud when the mouse made it.  Can you remember a time you worked this hard for something?


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