Mentor Text Wednesday: The Connect

Mentor Text: The Connect podcast featuring Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano

Techniques:

  • Summary
  • Introduction
  • Highlighting Resonant Elements of a Text
  • Criticism of a Text
  • Exploring Connections
  • Brainstorming
  • Peer Conferencing

Background – Like many of us, spring brought about a shift to remote learning.

A regular habit of mine became looking for the silver lining in the clouds of teaching, and living, during a global pandemic. One of them was that there was less of a rush to get what I refer to as the Gongshow, AKA my family, out of the house and to school. Mornings became less frenzied, and it felt like we were gifted with more time. I used some of that time to go for a walk, along the lake and through town.

And I began listening to podcasts.

I have no doubt that many of you readers of Moving Writers have explored podcasts, and maybe even use them in your classrooms. Without a commute, I never really had.

via The Ringer

As I’m sure you know, pretty much any interest you may have has an accompanying podcast. As someone who’s devoured all of Shea Serrano’s books in the past year, his new podcast series, The Connect, which he co-hosts with Jason Concepcion became a fast favorite.

And as I listened each week, I realized that I had a mentor text to share with you.

The concept of The Connect is simple. There is a theme that is decided upon. (For example, in the first episode, the theme is “Work Friends.”) Each of the co-hosts chooses a film that fits the theme. (For Work Friends, Shea chose Scarface and Jason chose Office Space.) Through a series of games and bits, they, quite entertainingly analyze, compare and contrast their films.

My English teacher’s brain couldn’t help but latch on to what a great mentor text this concept is for analysis.

How we might use this text:

Summary – One of the first things that happens in the podcast is a summary of each film. They are brief, and usually make a point of highlighting the connection the film has to the theme.

I really like hearing, or reading, good examples of summary, especially when used as part of an introduction. Perhaps it’s just my students, but I feel as if I’ve had to dedicate a fair amount of time to teaching summary, and making sure that it is done with brevity. If we’re doing quick responses, I don’t want my students using time here that could be dedicated to analysis. Shea and Jason are excellent at summarizing what a film is abut, and why it fits the theme.

Introduction – Along with the initial summary piece, the hosts often explain, briefly, why they chose the film. Sometimes, this is further expressing its connection to the theme. Other times, it’s a bit of discourse on why the film is a good film. There are also times, such as when they discussed Joker and Anchorman, (Bad TV Appearances) they look at the social context into which the film was released, or its relevance at the time of release, or its impact. My personal favorite is when they break into some narrative, and tell a story that is related to the film, or their viewing of it. All of these are great ways to start off a piece of analysis, and I would be ecstatic to see my writers using any of them.

Highlighting Resonant Elements of a Text – A relatively new feature on the podcast is where each of the hosts is tasked with choosing a three minute section of their film that they feel best represents the film, that if shown to an uninformed viewer would intrigue them, or best illustrate what the movie is about.

I like this expansion, and improvement, of “What was your favorite part?” It has a purpose, and encourages an element of analysis beyond simply choosing a good scene. If tasked with choosing a scene that best communicates the message, or impact of the film, one that highlights the essence or merits of the film, students will need to go deeper, and look at the text more critically. We could tailor this for our students, and have them choose the three minutes that they feel best communicates the theme of the film.

Criticism of a Text – Another relatively new segment is, “You Know What’s Bullshit?” in which they take the opportunity to highlight an element, aspect or scene from the film which impacts its quality. Often, this is a scene that doesn’t make sense, but as with the choice of three representative minutes, this is explained. Again, I feel that this is a good model for our writers as they are analyzing, because often, their critical analysis is that a scene is “stupid,” or “doesn’t make sense.” Shea and Jason go deeper than that, often highlighting how the scene presents in comparison to the rest of the film.

Exploring Connections  – The Connection Contest usually almost makes me need to stop my walk to laugh. In this contest, Shea and Jason are competing to see who can make them most connections between the two films. Part of the fun of this, as a listener, is that it starts strong and gets weaker over time. It’s awesome, though, when they are rattling off really perceptive ways, outside of the core theme they’ve focused on, that the two films connect. Basically, it’s clear that they’ve done their homework, and have done close readings of the two films. For our writers, this would be an excellent exercise in finding connections. When you consider that many of us have had to do this with written texts in our academic careers, it couldn’t hurt to have students practice finding the varied ways in which two films connect.

The Cafeteria Table section of the podcast also works with connections between texts – this time tasking them with connecting to texts other than the texts they’re looking at. Much like Shea did in his wonderful Movies (And Other Things) they are populating a cafeteria table of movie characters that fit the theme of the podcast. Two seats are already taken by characters from the films being featured, and each host gets to add two more. I love the thinking this demonstrates, as they need to justify why their pick gets a seat at the table. It’s a wonderful way to model building connections to texts outside of the one(s) being analyzed.

Brainstorming – In many of the games they play, or categories they cover. Each of the hosts takes a moment to discuss some of the choices that they almost made. For example, during the Cafeteria Table segment, Shea always takes a moment to explain a handful of choices that he almost chose. I love this, because it shows a more expanded thought process than merely meeting the requirements. Many of our writers, alas, would only make the required number of picks. Shea clearly considers more than the number required, and then chooses the ones that best exemplify the theme. I love the idea of students brainstorming many ideas, and then consciously choosing the best.

Peer Conferencing – The conversations that Shea and Jason have as they analyze their two films really show how a collaborative approach to writing can work. They weigh the merits of each other’s choices, even if that’s just Shea counting on Jason to make a bad pick for the cafeteria table. (Always hilarious.) They critique each other’s picks, or compliment each other’s connections or interpretations. Often, writing is viewed as a solitary activity, but when we’re doing analysis, part of that should include a dialogue. Though it may seem silly at times, The Connect offers a very good model of this.

The Connect makes me laugh, and it makes me miss my friends who I might have these exact conversations with. It’s also a really good model for analytical thinking for our students. I mean, you’ve probably already decided, that with a segment called “You Know What’s Bullshit?” it might not be for all classrooms, but even if we never have the students listen to a single episode of the podcast, you should, and consider how you could use the structures that they use to analyze film to mentor analysis in your classroom.

How have you used podcasts in your classroom? What podcasts are “must listens” in your opinion?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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