Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Adolescents, as a group, are incredibly active contributors to YouTube material. It is a platform with which nearly all students are familiar, and even if some are not, its user-friendliness makes it easy to bring students up to speed for use as a learning tool. Adolescents not only use YouTube to feel their thoughts are legitimate, but also to experiment with professional fields such as reporting and the arts.

YouTube has been used in projects around engaging children and adolescents in healthy eating[i], but its power as a teaching tool may be underutilized. Although using it for Universal Design for Learning may take some creativity considering the need for active and even public contribution to most parts of the broadcasting process, its power lies in its popularity and familiarity among students, its ability to provoke competition, and its capacity for students to make it emotionally relevant. Popular videos on YouTube have emotional draws to them, so creating lessons around researching, analyzing, and judging the successful elements- such as emotional draw, length, production value, etc – would be engaging, and further, could be used for the first part of low to high sequencing of a SAFE lesson1.

[1] Adapted from: Crawford, Glenda. Differentiation for the Adolescent Learner : Accommodating Brain Development, Language, Literacy, and Special Needs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin PressPrint.


“Set up” the content knowledge base. These questions focus on basic comprehension and factual responses.


Pose questions that are more “analytic” in nature and require students to interpret knowledge through contextual clues.


“Focus” thinking in a new direction.


Stimulate “evaluative” thinking which persuades students to appraise, assign value, and reflect.

Once students are set-up with research guidelines for YouTube searches and analyze the effective elements, teachers could move onto focusing the students on creating a video of their own and have students evaluate it based on the number of previously identified elements they incorporate and on the number of hits their video gets (which they can establish based on similar video and which provides a challenge).

This same type of lesson can be used to train students to recognize the reasons behind the publishing of videos on YouTube and to criticize and evaluate their validity, legitimacy, and potential for impact. This critical understanding would arm them against the persuasive content that may be targeting them that does not consider their wellbeing, which expands well beyond food. I work with a non-profit organization called FoodFight (foodfight.org) that does work similar to this lesson and is seeing staggering changes in teachers’ and high school students’ attitudes towards food across New York City. FoodFight offers workshops, curriculum materials, and support to guide teachers and their students to a completely different way of thinking about food and how food impacts our lives. Teachers and students become, in a sense, food detectives. This cultivation of detective-like critical lenses and voices is essential to life skills. And so if YouTube can help us with that cultivation, then let us use it to teach towards heartier educational harvests. Too far with the metaphor? Sorry. I get pretty excited about food.

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