Today I want to share a classroom activity that I have used in both lower-level and upper-level writing classes. The goal of the assignment is to help students consider how their perception is often externally influenced, particularly by dominant social scripts. You might think, don’t students already know this?, but in my experience I’ve found that college students often believe they’re either more objective than they actually are, or that they’re unaffected by dominant discourses–that their views and beliefs are strictly intrinsic (to be fair, I think we all think that way at least some of the time). I’ve found that this activity allows for productive discussion of how students’ positions on debatable issues–the kind we ask students to write about in their papers–are not made in a vacuum.
So what is this activity?
I’m so glad you asked.
The activity centers on the music video below for the 2012 song “Please don’t….” (English translation) by the KPop artist K.will. I was first exposed to this video–and KPop in general–several years ago my then-MA colleague and roommate Katelyn. The song is, unsurprisingly, in Korean, which is convenient because most of my students don’t speak Korean and therefore are not distracted by the lyrics, trying to use them to “decode” the video. (However, even when they do, it doesn’t matter because the lyrics do not directly describe the plot of the video.) What I want students to focus on is the visual narrative told by the video. Even though KPop has risen in popularity in the U.S. recently, this song is old enough that I have not yet encountered a student who has seen the video.
If you haven’t seen it, I invite you to watch it now.
Surprised? If so, you might enjoy the spin-off videos of people watching it for the first time. (For the record, I was surprised too.)
I have found that this activity can easily fill a 50-minute class period if substantive discussion and reflection writing is included (which I recommend).
I begin the activity by asking students to take out writing materials while I pull up the video. I then ask that if any students have previously seen this video, they not say anything (but again, this hasn’t yet been an issue). I then explain that for this activity, we are going to practice following a visually-driven narrative. At certain points, I will pause the video and ask them to write down their observations and predictions. After we finish, we’ll discuss our responses.
During each pause, I ask students to answer two questions in writing:
What do you think is happening in this video (and why)?
What do you think will happen next (and why)?
(Make sure you’re facing your students in the final seconds of the video. I promise you, it’s worth it.)
If your students respond to this video as mine have, they usually express shock at the ending (this has been true even for students who openly identified as non-heterosexual). They insist that they have been “tricked” into thinking the central male character (played by Seo In-Guk) is in love with the young woman (played by Kim Da-som) instead of the other young man (played by Ahn Jae-hyun). I ask them for their “evidence,” consisting of the documentation they made while watching the video. Invariably, they point to a variety of examples.
So, I say we’ll watch the video again. I ask them to document anything they notice that they might have missed the first time, which would point to a relationship between the two male characters (Note: I don’t pause the video this time).
After watching the video a second time, we come back to discussion. I ask them what they noticed this time around, and they are shocked at how different the video seems after knowing the ending. They are, in fact, able to give many examples of evidence showing a romantic connection between Seo In-Guk and Ahn Jae-hyun’s characters.
I ask them why–why, if there was so much evidence pointing to one relationship did they assume it was another? At some point, a student will suggest that they have been conditioned to expect heterosexual relationships to be presented in pop culture. This observation naturally allows us to segue into the way pop culture (and other hegemonic viewpoints) shape our expectations, causing us to see what we expect and not what the evidence might be showing to the contrary.*
I then close the lesson by having students reflect, through writing, on the “lenses”–like heterosexuality–that might influence their perception. I like the term “lenses” because it suggests something that guides our vision, but also something that can be removed or adjusted. I explain that I’m not asking them to reject these lenses–some of which might be deeply-held values–so much as to understand that we are influenced by these lenses, and as researchers (and, I believe, critical-thinking human beings) we have the responsibility to question are own initial assumptions.
As homework, I ask students to write a short online discussion board post reflecting on what they learned from the activity, with the option to share any of the “lenses” they described in their end-of-class reflection. These posts have demonstrated to me that students learn a lot from this activity. It is also a memorable one–many students mention it in their end-of-the-semester reflections as one of the most impactful activities in my course.
I invite you to use this activity in your own class(es), either as-is or with whatever modifications you desire. If you try it, please share how it worked for you and any modifications you made in the comments!
*I have used this activity as showing a variation of the “closest cliché syndrome” described in They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, if I happen to be using that text in my class. You might also use this activity to discuss counter-arguments, in the sense that a reasonable person could see an issue or situation differently than you do. I have not yet tried this, but if you do, I would be interested in hearing how it goes.