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Luke Jakson



Week of July 5

On Monday, Devon and I worked with the social media team of the Mannheim library to create fun questions for their Instagram story to continue our engagement there. (One of the things you can do on Instagram stories is create “quizzes.”) The questions started out with Harvard trivia and transitioned to questions about the mission of Pre-Texts and about ourselves. The library also published the videos of us on their Instagram story responding to questions from people curious about Harvard. So we’ve been utilizing people’s widespread interest in Harvard to drive up interest in Pre-Texts.

We also continued outreach throughout the week. I heard back from Fola Dada, who unfortunately cannot make the jazz and gender event on the 28th but has a student, Iris, who would be interested. I requested that she pass along my email as well as Devon’s to Iris, but she has not contacted us as of yet. I also heard back from Juliana Blumenschein, and we met with her on Friday. She thought the idea was excellent and agreed to not only send us a video for the concert but also to moderate the panel. We are very excited to have her on board! Other than that, we have bumped a couple emails we sent before (Janice Dixon, Anke Helfrich). We hope to get more diversity on the panel and get more female instrumentalists.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I figured out how to livestream from a Zoom meeting to YouTube. I did a couple test livestreams. There is a 15 second delay between the Zoom meeting and the YouTube livestream. Additionally, there are two main takeaways I passed on to Susanne, Klaus, and Renate in our Thursday meeting: (1) to livestream on YouTube, you need a verified phone number attached to the account, and (2) if I am to livestream the Zoom meeting, I need to be signed in to the library’s YouTube account. If they for whatever reason do not want me in the account, I will explain the process. Another important thing is that the livestream will automatically upload to their YouTube channel after we end it, so the library will always have a record of the event as they start building a women’s jazz section of the library. :)

We prepared for our first workshop with Ms. Vitt’s class by making the six-question survey found here, and I turned the questions into a Google Form. We also made a Google slide presentation to introduce ourselves through photos, explain our goals, explain the Pre-Texts method, and to lay out the agenda for the first workshop. We decided we would first introduce ourselves in pictures, then go over what Pre-Texts is, and then give them an opportunity to introduce themselves by finding or drawing a photo that describes them in some way (similar to our own introduction). We then planned that we would read “Two Friends” as they draw, share, reflect, break, do the Music Maker activity we did in training, share, reflect, fill out the survey, and depart after explaining tangents.

When we actually started the workshop on Thursday, we had some technical problems that didn’t end up interfering with their experience too much. They were all in the same classroom with at least 2 students behind each iPad. They couldn’t all turn their cameras on at the same time because their school’s WiFi connection was not strong enough, but we got to see them at the end when we took a photo/screenshot as they piled behind two iPads with cameras on. So for the majority of the workshop, they had cameras off but were able to speak. Next time, we’ll have them at their houses so that they can hopefully have cameras on. We started by introducing ourselves with the photos on the Google Slides presentation. It was nice that the students already had questions for us; it was just the start of their engagement. They seemed to like the idea of Pre-Texts and were excited to share their photos with us. We adapted their introduction by assigning each iPad a photo so that the students behind them had to find something in common that described all of them, and their responses ranged from photos of a soccer ball to KFC. We also ran into the problem of them not being able to share their photos visually, so Devon had them paste the image links in the chat, and she shared her screen to show them. And as with any pre-texts activity, we asked them to reflect on what they just did. Their English really impressed us from the start, and most of them were fairly eager to share. There were a few who definitely seemed more shy, so I hope that those ones start to feel more comfortable as we continue the workshops.

I then read “Two Friends” by Guy de Maupassant aloud while Devon monitored the chat in case they said my voice had cut out due to WiFi issues. Devon also shared her screen so that they could follow along with my reading. We instructed them to draw what they heard, and we usually saw two men fishing, a train, and a mountain in their artwork. Devon shared her drawing first and invited the next person, and we continued this method until everyone had shared. They expressed that the text was a little more difficult than what they are used to, which is exactly what we hoped for (they said this before we reflected). In our reflections, though, they said it was fun to draw freely as they listened, even if they did not understand everything. We reassured that it was expected to not understand everything and used it as a segue to ask the text a question. They each asked a question in another Google doc (“Why did they shoot the man?” “Why didn’t the two men tell the soldiers the password?”). 

At this point, we had originally planned to do the Google Music Maker activity that we did in our training, but we didn’t think we had time, so we will run it next Tuesday. Instead, we chatted with them fairly casually as a sort of “break” and then sent them the survey as a Google form. So far, we have 9 responses. Not everyone from the class was in attendance that day, so we hope to reach the rest of them next class. We then wrapped up by explaining tangents and took photos. 

To do:

Week of July 12

Last Friday, Devon and I reached out to Lina after our cohort meeting to ask where we could help anywhere. I met with Lina for an hour on Wednesday to brainstorm ideas for the library’s pre-texts workshop on Monday, July 19th. They have a solid plan now to run the first hours in German and then the final hour in English, where I make a “guest” appearance early in the morning. Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, I also made the library a doc of sample activities from our training so that they had examples to reference. 

On Monday, we planned for Day 2 with Ms. Vitt’s class. Devon and I decided we would share tangents, answer plot questions from the text, re-read the story in a popcorn fashion, do the Google song maker activity, and wrap up with blackout poetry or object show and tell in case we finished all of the above activities early.

Tuesday’s workshop started with the tangent and reflection, and it took about 40 minutes. I didn’t expect the warmup to take so long, but we found out that many of the students were sick yet still wanted to participate, so we didn’t push them on efficiency while they weren’t feeling well. Their tangents were mostly wars they knew. We then proposed a popcorn reading of the text, which the students did quite well with considering English is not their first language. Finally, we transitioned to the Google song maker activity, and the students took off with it as we were explaining how to use it. Some even linked their experimental songs as we were trying to figure out how to make breakout rooms in Germany’s online meeting platform called Big Blue Button. We actually ended up adjusting the directions so that everyone’s “soundtrack” is independently completed because breakout rooms were not working. We then shared everyone’s song, and they all explained how their songs related to the text until the end of the session. Two or three of them said they just made an original song without thinking about the text, so we challenged them to then make a connection between them after the fact; one of them said the notes in their song were scattered in the same way the war created chaos in the text. We compiled all their songs here. Corresponding with Ms. Vitt after the class, we decided we would assign an “off on a leaf” for the next class and do our reflections next as well. Ms. Vitt also said she was going to encourage them to turn their cameras on more often since their WiFi is better at home than school. 

As I mentioned before, I met with Lina on Wednesday and made the doc of sample activities, but beyond that we planned for Thursday’s session and sent a lot of emails for the jazz and gender panel and concert. We planned to reflect on the Google song maker activity first, then share their “off on a leaf,” do a blackout poetry activity if time permits, and wrap up by explaining how they can facilitate on Tuesday. By the end of the day though, we decided it might be nice for them to open with the object show and tell activity to get them moving at the beginning.

On Thursday morning, I met with Iris, who is a music student on our panel and answered her questions about the event. I then joined the workshop a couple minutes early and encouraged the students to ask me questions about Harvard as a fun mini-activity before we got started because they seemed to be very interested last Thursday. We then actually began with the object show and tell so that they would have to turn on cameras and move around after hearing that they had a busy day (in their time, we start at 2pm). The object show and tell was a success; we were amused that so many of them had mini Eiffel Towers in their houses (the characters in the text were from Paris). We then reflected on both the Google song maker activity as well as the show and tell, and they expressed that they really enjoyed both activities. Afterwards, we transitioned into “off on a leaf,” but about half of them had not submitted their leaves. Ms. Vitt let us know they had had a busy couple of days, so we decided we would share the leaves that were there and allow the others to complete it for next Tuesday’s session. Then, we gave them the opportunity to volunteer to facilitate their own workshops; Rim and Lea said they will do it. We then wrapped up with an informal conversation to get them speaking comfortably; the conversation went from raisins to foods in German culture and to family ancestry before we reached 4pm their time and concluded the session.

After the workshop, I met with Susanne, Klaus, Renate, and the library’s IT person to plan for the virtual panel and concert. We will test live streaming next week.

Week of July 19

I woke up early to join the last hour and a half of Lina and Sina’s Pre-Texts workshop on Monday. The majority of it had been instructed in German, but my “special guest appearance” was in English. To start, I introduced myself, read an excerpt from “Two Friends” while the students drew, shared, and reflected. For the activity, a student proposed they create a rap with a beat inspired by the story. They formed into groups of up to five students (some chose to work independently). We gave them 15 minutes, but they needed an extra 3 minutes to wrap up final details/lyrics. When we shared, it was hard for me to see/hear everyone in the room (especially those who were in the back), but the students in the front did a really nice job; overall, I was very impressed. We then reflected before I said my goodbyes at 7. Devon and I also planned for Tuesday’s workshop with Ms. Vitt’s class: Rim and Lea would facilitate their activity, and we would facilitate a blackout poetry activity in case there was time left.

Lina, Sina, and I talked about how their Monday workshop went on Wednesday; we agreed it went very well overall. They even mentioned that after everyone had left, one girl came back alone to sincerely thank them. Some of them really impressed me with their drawings and rap songs, especially one whose rap went on for at least a minute (he worked independently). We didn’t feel that everything went perfectly, though. A group of 3 boys in the back didn’t take the workshop too seriously, which is unfortunate because those who engage the least are probably the ones who need the workshop the most. So how do you reach the students who need it the most in a single day? I mentioned that doing workshops with the same students over multiple days creates a sort of positive peer pressure of routine that compels the once less-engaged students to step from their comfort zone, so what do you do differently if you only have one day? 

On Tuesday, Devon and I ran the workshop with Ms. Vitt’s class. Lea and Rim, our two facilitators, proposed an acrostic activity with the words “Two Friends,” the title of our text. The word corresponding to each letter had to relate to the text, and we shared by going down the title as a group and each sharing what we had written for a letter. I thought they did a great job designing the activity and facilitating. However, the farther we got through the letters, the less students shared. By the time we were reflecting, many said they were having WiFi problems. We pushed through by doing a blackout poetry activity; we showed examples of poetry, showed them how to make a blackout poem with the website we used in training, and gave them about 20 minutes total after we had checked in at 10 and 15 minutes. When we were sharing, one said he did not know the directions, which was a little upsetting. Ms. Vitt stepped in to remind them to participate and ask questions whenever they were unsure. At the end of the session, Adrian and Raik were assigned our next facilitators for Thursday’s session. We spoke with Ms. Vitt briefly when all the students left, and we decided to have the students in school for the next workshop, to start a new text in order to drive up engagement, and to ask a student to repeat our proposals to ensure understanding for our remaining sessions. We had a few ideas for a new text, and we ultimately decided to read an excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Thursday definitely went better than Tuesday. The students were in groups of two or three behind an iPad at different locations across the school for improved WiFi connection. We started by reflecting on the previous session, hoping to just talk to them to see what went wrong. The couple of students who didn’t really participate expressed that the blackout poetry activity was very hard for them. I think we need hard activities to push them from their comfort zone for growth, but it is difficult to run hard activities online when they can just leave their computer and say they were having WiFi issues or that they were in the bathroom. Devon and I thanked them for the feedback and said we would adjust. Devon then read the excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God as the students drew what they heard. Many drew a woman, people talking, and the moon/sky. In their reflections, they expressed that they really like drawing while listening, as could be seen by the detail with which many of them drew. A lot of them also said something along the lines of “I’m not an artist, but…”, so we reminded them that “artistic talent” was not exactly the point -- it was about the process of turning one art form into another. Adrian and Raik’s activity was very quick; we used three emojis to describe “Two Friends” (we allowed them to choose either text). Our next two facilitators will be Florian and Tim, who reluctantly accepted -- I’m excited to see what they do.

Shortly after the workshop, we met with Susanne, Klaus, Renate, and Raschied to do a livestream test from Zoom to the library’s YouTube channel. Raschied sent me the login information for the YouTube channel, and the test went smoothly. I quickly then privated the video. The jazz and gender event is approaching, and we collected short bios from the panelists this week. It doesn’t look like any of them have overlapping free time to do a quick “hello” before they go live together, so we will send a “run of show” email so that everyone is on the same page.

To do: Write to Lina and Sina (cc Yilmaz). We need to do a series of workshops for a group of students. Doing one workshop is just “advertising”

July 25

We had our last workshop with Ms. Vitt’s class on Monday. We were excited to see what Florian and Tim would facilitate, since they did not reach out for any ideas or assistance (none of the student-facilitators did, but Florian and Tim definitely struggled with English more than most students). Their proposal was to read sentences about the text that were either true or false; most sentences were direct quotes (for true) or negated a direct quote (for false). The class agreed that they wanted to do it, and many said they liked that it felt like trivia in their reflection. I was a little conflicted because I wanted to somehow add an art component to the activity so that it wouldn’t feel like a memory exercise in school, but I also didn’t want to make Florian and Tim feel like I was shooting down their idea, since the students tended to want to feel as though they had done something “right” (I write “right” in quotations because Devon and I had emphasized that there is no “right” answer in art). I suppose it was fine, though, because the students liked it, and it was quick enough that we could squeeze in another art-related activity for the final hour. We proposed two activities and gave the students the option to choose one: pantomime or rewrite the story. One student suggested that we can use either “Two Friends” or the excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God, so we also gave them that option. Their pantomimes were fun to watch; we saw them fishing, the sun going down, and walking unbothered while others talked about you. It was incredibly impressive when one student, Rim, correctly guessed the sentence that Soykan was pantomiming. Most other times, they correctly guessed the plot point, which is still impressive for doing so from stories in another language. It showed us that they were really paying attention. I was also impressed by a few of their story rewrites, especially how a couple of them changed the setting (location and/or time period) of a story to then affect the plot rather than directly changing plot points outright. 

To finish our last ten minutes of our last session, we thanked them and asked for any feedback they felt called to share. It was overwhelmingly positive. Many of them said they had fun working with difficult texts and thanked us a lot. A couple said it was amazing English practice, and they hung around until they had to leave. Ms. Vitt also gave us feedback after all the students said their goodbyes; overall, she was ecstatic that she agreed to hold a pre-texts workshop in her class. She loved how pre-texts didn’t allow any of them to “get away” like normal class -- it was the expectation that everyone shares something. She also was appreciative of our patience for every student regardless of ability, and she joked that it was nice that students were forced to speak English since we didn’t understand German. In case we did future workshops, her constructive criticism was that it would be better to repeat directions even when students say they have no questions just to ensure everyone understands -- apparently, she has to do this in class even in German. It makes sense, though; the workshops were at the end of their school day, and we are teaching in a foreign language at the end of an online year. Before they left, we also gave them a post-survey consisting of the same questions as the pre-survey.

Unfortunately, we only have 5 responses on the post-survey so far (compared to 17 on the pre-survey), so I asked Ms. Vitt to resend it to them again. I’m going to paste the responses from the pre-survey above the post-survey responses by each question to compare them below:

Even though there are only a few responses, it’s already looking like their confidence in reading a short story has improved!

This question looks like the spread of the data might decrease when more students respond, since being exposed to difficult texts both improved the reading skills of the students who originally scored themselves lower yet also showed students who rated themselves a “10” that texts can be more difficult than they have seen in school.

On this one, it’s unsurprising that the data looks pretty similar. We didn’t spend too much time writing. We offered the “rewrite the story” activity on our last day, but that is not enough to make an impact on this front. I think it would have been helpful for foreign language students to do more writing than we did.

Here, zero means “no difficulty at all”


It’s hard to tell how the data might end up as more responses come. It’s possible that students’ confidence in their English skills was inflated from class where they are free to switch to German whenever they want, but they did not have that option during our workshops.

The post-survey data might end up similar to the pre-survey in this one as well for the same reason as above.

And finally, we are glad to see that it looks like their comprehension skills improved over the course of hearing activity proposals as well as transitions between activities.

All throughout the weekend and up to Wednesday, we were also organizing the jazz and gender panel discussion and concert. We sent a couple last-minute emails to make sure everyone knew the run-of-show and to provide the Zoom link, and I created the concert video on Tuesday. It was 28 minutes long and consisted of six performances of songs either composed or made famous by female jazz musicians. On Wednesday, we had everyone in the Zoom room by 10:50 am (4:50 pm in Mannheim), and the panelists caught up with each other until we went live ten minutes later. In our discussion, many of them shared their life experiences in examples showing how they had to persevere as a female jazz musician as well as their insight. The overall impression I was left with was that they had had to work extremely hard to open the door in front of them, but they wanted to do everything they could to hold the door open for the young female jazz musicians behind them rather than allowing it to close again. They also expressed interest in doing another event with the library. At the end of the panel, we asked if they had any readings or other sources for people to learn more, and we ended up putting some emphasis on reading Gender and Identity in Jazz by Wolfram Knauer at the end of the panel as well as after the concert. We transitioned to the concert at noon (6 pm in Mannheim), which was much later than we intended, but we felt like their discussion was too important to cut short. I played the video I had made on Tuesday, and then we finished the livestream around 12:30 pm. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to hear them speak, and I’m so glad that they all enjoyed it so much as well.


Thank you, everyone at Pre-Texts, for contributing to such a wonderful part of my summer!