Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blog Reborn: Thanks To My Students

For inspiration, I only need to look to my students. 

Over the last six months, I've fallen out of the rhythm of writing. I know why: I took two additional jobs, two adjunct positions--one at a local college and one at a local university. By taking them on--and committing myself to the best of my ability to those jobs--I lost my own way. Prior to the exceptionally busy schedule, I was writing this weekly blog, I was writing personal journals, and I was connecting with other great educators. And then--everything went flat. No time for blogging, no time for connection. Worse yet--little time for family, and no time for me. 

I needed to clear my schedule and open myself up to my students. And sure enough, it's my students who are bringing me out of this funk. After last week's digital essays, I'm empowered by them. They took an incredible amount of time out of their lives to make the best essay they could in the time allowed. 

One particularly strong piece is Emma's. She wrote about how music "broke her broken". 

The thing is--her essay didn't just break her broken; it broke my broken as well. 

So, starting today and carrying on as far as students are willing, I'll share this blog space with my students: Wednesdays for their views on education and Sundays for mine.

So, I give you, Emma--her narrative and her guest blog post.


Oscillations: A Digital Narrative

Normally when I hear the words, "It's time for our personal narrative essay!" I groan, complain, and convince myself that I have absolutely zero life stories worth anyone's time. I wouldn't consider myself a person of spontaneity, which in return makes me feel like a boring human being. I always focus too much on finding one story that might be promising enough to not put the audience to sleep. In doing so, my personal narratives end up dry and unimpressionable. Nonetheless, writing a personal narrative has never clicked for me. That is until the essay transformed into less about the stories and more about how I would present them. What was it that changed my mind and fired me up? One small word: Digital.

My generation is becoming more and more reliant on technology. There are so many facets to technology; it's unfathomable how vast and growing it is. When it comes down to integrating technology into an educational environment, I'm not going to lie, I am not fully sold on the idea of it. For me, it is either hit or miss; what suffices for one does not suffice for all. Some instructors may see the Chromebooks each student was given at my high school as a way to turn more things in online. Some may see it as a way to connect even when not in class. But then, you have some instructors who see beneath the surface of what is in front of us. These instructors see the endless possibilities of creativity that can be exposed with our technology. Mr. Theune is an instructor like the latter. 

The day Mr. Theune told us we were segwaying into a new project and he presented it as a digital personal narrative, I really had to open my mind up to the idea. I still felt like my life was too boring to find any creative angle. So that first day, I didn't get any work done in class. I went home and thought. And thought...and thought. If I've learned anything from this project, at the very least, I learned thinking is exhausting. 

A few days into the project, already worn out from thinking and not finding anything, I then fell into the phase of, "Well, maybe I'm just overthinking it." Oh boy. I was in trouble. Thinking about overthinking makes everything more confusing. I decided at that moment to put the writing process on the back burner. I wouldn't say I had "writer's block", but I wasn't inspired yet; there weren't any creative juices flowing. 

Eventually you reach a point of having nothing to do but address what's in front of you. For me that was my guitars and music; music is where I go when I need to get inspired. That's when it hit me: music isn't boring! Still not thinking about the writing, I imagined footage of me playing my guitars, having the camera fade in and out to add texture and complexity. I immediately called up a friend of mine to see if she'd be willing to help me film. We spent close to three hours filming one Saturday afternoon, and I spent the rest of the weekend editing the video and creating something very similar to the images in my mind. With the video aspect nearly finished, I moved on to writing. 

I am extremely passionate about music and the power it possesses. I tapped into the emotions of music in my life rather than a specific memory, because I could write a much deeper essay if I poured myself into it instead of retelling a memory. That and I didn't really have one set memory about music to then write from. Writing was still difficult though. If you look at my first draft, most of it has been crossed out and a lot of my sentences have jumped from paragraph to paragraph before finding their home. Thankfully no one will ever have to see or attempt to read my first draft; there is a reason it is called a rough draft. 

In thinking about the feelings of music, it helped me remember a song that hit close to home when I was going through a difficult season of life, and I knew that it had to be the background music to the video. For about a day all I did was watch my video with music to feel the ambiance and pace of the piece. I looked at it as a piece of art instead of merely a video to accompany what would soon be my voiceover. I emphasized more on the video aspect, because that is where all the emotions inside me can truly be seen and felt. 

Then, I started reading my essay while watching my video. This was a little backwards compared to how many of my classmates did the project. I saw many of them build the video around their voiceover and that really worked in their cases. But for me, I needed to visualize before I heard anything. Once I found the perfect placement, I had headphones in from my laptop watching my video, and I held up my phone and made a voice memo as I read my essay. Surprisingly, voice memos create a very crisp, clean and ample recording. It was extremely easy to import my voiceover into windows movie maker, which was the video editing platform of my choice. A few adjustments to balance the level of my voice to the music, and boom. I just made a masterpiece. I must have watched it a hundred times and even shocked myself with how well it all came together. 

Mr. Theune always wants us to think about audience and purpose as we hone our craft. Getting things on YouTube, although it can be a long process, is what really made me get a feel for having a real audience. As for my purpose, I think this essay was very healthy for me to create. It helped me to understand my emotions and feelings. If anything, it elevated me as a human. Inspiration is something I strive to get and give; through all my writing, I hope to inspire and show a new way of approaching things. Mr. Theune inspired me and gave me a new appreciation of personal narratives just by adding the word "digital". It's truly fascinating the power a single word can have and even more fascinating the power of video and audio to amplify these said words. 

When it comes down to it, this is a project I will always remember. It is one I have a bit of pride in and one I'm not afraid to show. This essay made me a better writer, video editor, and even a better person. If you can find the right way to integrate technology into a class project—forget power points or online documents—it is amazing to see how far people can go in pursuit of it. Digital personal narrative? In my book, it works. I look forward to doing something similar to this style of writing and nature of presenting in the future. It is definitely a hit!


The other classes' digital narratives: