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Devon Gates



Week of July 9

This week has been particularly exciting, as many of the projects I’ve been working on are finally starting to come together. 

Our social media posts have been gaining some traction, and people are showing interest, which is great for promotion both for Pre Texts and for the jazz and gender panel. Additionally, we have met with and have received a response from 4 panelists, plus 2 additional performers who have agreed to film pre-recorded performances for us. We’ve also been able to coordinate the logistics of how to stream the event through Zoom webinar via Youtube, which is a huge relief. The next steps here will then be for me: 
-planning/recording my own performance
-in preparation for moderating: think of some questions that provoke connection between the artists’ experiences through the lens of gender (do some research on the artists to better facilitate that)

We also started our first Pre Texts workshop today!! Which was incredible. Unfortunately wi fi is an issue for them sitting together in the classroom, which meant that we could not see them (no cameras on, audio only) for most of the session. I’m proud of the way Luke and I adjusted the activities to meet this, and were still able to get the kids excited about reading, and continuing pre-texts in further sessions! 

They seem to be really interested in our personal lives, at Harvard and otherwise, and we were able to go on a few tangents of our own (KFC...high school musical...etc) which they all enjoyed. They also wanted to follow us on social media pretty quickly into the session, which is a good sign. The cross cultural element here (one student said the first thing they think of when they see “America” is “high school, football and cheerleaders”!) is funny and super interesting. I think it will be interesting to see how in future sessions our discussion shifts towards (or doesn’t) world affairs...especially since our text, Two Friends, is very close to home for them (the Franco-Prussian war being subject matter).  

They really enjoyed drawing while the story was read, and being able to share their photos aloud. I think the completely democratic facilitation will take time to engrain more, since many of them just wanted simple, direct answers due to the language barrier (understandable), and not being able to see them also made it harder to measure who has spoken, etc. In the reflections most of them noted that they enjoyed the creativity in the activity, and found it fun even though they found the text difficult, which is so good to hear! We are still collecting pre survey results, but I think it will be interesting to see how they rate themselves, since they seemed to be able to speak a second language far better than most American high school students in my experience. 

For next week’s sessions, we are planning on introducing them to more activities (i.e. the music activity with google music maker, maybe blackout poetry, a show and tell with objects, etc.) and also potentially introducing them to the idea of facilitating their own activities the following week. 

I can’t help but fight the urge to make this more consciously “socially-minded” in nature, but I will try my best not to force any sort of discussion. Overall I’m just happy that the kids were able to have fun and read at the same time, even with the less than ideal conditions at times. 

Week of July 17

This week we were really able to start seeing things come together, both in class and in planning the event. For the event, we were able to meet with the last of our potential panelists and got confirmation from a total of 6 (including a moderator). This is way more than we expected, and I am so happy to be able to share such a variety of perspectives (some artists are instrumentalists, some are vocalists, some are older, younger, some play classical as well, etc.). In fact, we are happy that we have so many panelists that Luke and I don’t have to participate in the panel/performance, which will really spotlight all the Mannheim-specific artists. I think it will be engaging and interesting both for “library regulars” and hopefully new people that we might attract (the artists participating are publicizing the event to their fans as well). Seeing as the event is coming up soon, we will plan a group Zoom with all panelists for the week of, and have them all meet each other. Luke will also be editing together a video for the performance portion. 

In class, we’ve gotten to a good place with the students; they continue to be engaged and willing to dive into difficult topics, which is exciting. We selected two students to lead an activity next week, which is great, and I’m proud of their progress and growing confidence. It’s been great to get to know their personalities and have it come through in their work, which I was worried about in an online format. The activities we’ve done since last week include: the chrome music maker activity (they were really excited about that one, and got really creative about tone and mood), and the show and tell activity (it was cool to sort of get a “room tour” from many of the students). For example, many of them learned things about each other that they didn’t previously know (many of them had the same plastic eiffel tower!). We also got to learn a little about each other’s families, pets, etc (one girl has two birds just offscreen in her bedroom!). It feels good to see them getting used to following directions (last week they were more timid, asked for more clarifications, etc.) It is a challenge to get them to engage more with the text beyond the obvious comprehension of the story (i.e. the story is about “two friends” and the Franco-Prussian war, etc.). Trying to get them to dig more into debating or challenging the text is difficult, but since they are still learning comprehension and felt the text was challenging in general, we are trying not to push them, and hope that this art creation exercise will mostly build their confidence. 

Week of July 24

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind; everything is wrapping up so quickly, with the jazz and gender event being next Wednesday, and the final workshop with our English class being Monday. 

In workshops, we started asking the students to design and facilitate their own activities for their classmates, which the students were a little hesitant about, but ended up doing really well. It feels good to hear students reflect the pre texts methodology (i.e. automatically volunteering their classmates to speak, asking to reflect after activities, etc.), and also create new activities (one group had their classmates choose emojis that related to the story, while another had their classmates create an acrostic poem based on the text). 

One thing I feel like I’m struggling with is having the students dig a little deeper into the subject matter of the texts we’re exploring; while I’m glad they seem to be grasping the pre texts methodology, it’s really difficult to get them to ask critical questions or relate the text to the world around them. I think this is due to the class being entirely in a second language for them, making it easier for them to often give surface level responses and/or still struggle to comprehend broad themes (for example, many students simply noted that the story was about the Franco-Prussian war, without at all contextualizing it socially or relating any aspect of it to their own lives/heritage). At the same time, I know that having them participate in the workshop at all is a huge stretch for them, and above all I want them to leave feeling like reading/English can be fun. As much as I’d really like to speak to them about the social context of these pieces, I’m aware that meeting students where they are is most important, and also that it likely wouldn’t be super effective in a second language.

We also had difficulties keeping students engaged, and Ms. Vitt (the teacher) had to at one point scold the students on Tuesday for not being engaged enough/being off-camera. A good amount of the students are consistently engaged, but some are more difficult than others to get to speak up at times. Overall, the students still seem to really appreciate the activities, and one student who wouldn’t be there for the workshop next week made a point to stay afterwards and thank us, which felt really good. 

As for the panel next week, we have compiled a good number of performances, and the panelists are excited to be there. As Doris said about one-offs being ineffective, I’m really interested in thinking about ways to continue this engagement with the library and this community on jazz and gender, whether it’s another series/ongoing series, adding to the library’s collection, maybe creating a concert series...

Week of July 30

This week has been the culmination of so many things we’ve spent the past two months planning. On Monday, our high school workshop ended, and it was such a rewarding experience to hear everyone reflect on the last meeting. They felt that something I thought might be a hindrance, the fact that we don’t speak their native language, made them feel more immersed in the English class, unlike when they are with their regular professor that can always switch to German to explain, etc. The feedback we received from their teacher Ms. Vitt was mainly positive, with her only saying that we should repeat the directions for each activity more, simply due to the language barrier. To see the progress in terms of confidence/willingness to take risks is great, and many of them said that “Two Friends” was the longest text they’ve ever been challenged to read. It was also great to see them continue facilitating for their classmates, and growing more and more eager to share (it got less and less awkward to ask who wanted to share as the weeks went on). 

The panel was also super interesting, and I’m proud of the diversity of panel we were able to curate. Of course, the singers dominated conversation a bit, and the older panelists tended to take up the most space, but the conversation itself felt very riveting, and a lot came to the surface. It feels strange for me to not be a part of this conversation, feeling that my perspective could have shone light on a few things, but it’s a delicate balance between recognizing that the jazz community (and non-male community) is my own, and also allowing Mannheim to have their own interactions. They seem to defer to us in terms of putting together another series of these panels, which seems counterintuitive/unneccessary? (They could put it together, and that way it is self-sustaining/self-sufficient? Maybe we could set up something in collaboration with the library and perhaps the Mannheim Jazz Festival?)...there might also be potential for collaboration with Berklee’s Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice, and/or the Berklee Global Jazz Institute...I will send out emails to them both :). Overall, I think this process has shown me the persistent nature of educational/change/outreach/advocacy work, the ways in which it mostly involves people and being able to relate to them.

Link to event recording: