I need to teach like a YouTube influencer

Mr. Ohama is his classroom

Distance learning creates novel issues for teaching and learning while exacerbating existing issues. Non-teachers tend to focus on the remote aspect of the situation. They ask about how we engage students who are at home. They ask about amusing things they’ve heard about distance learning like how students sometimes forget to mute their microphones before providing an all-too-revealing glimpse of what they do when their cameras are off. Who knew that singing was such a popular student pastime?

As for me, I’m focused on other things. I’m looking for the “opt in” moment. Each year there is a distinct moment when all the students in a class collectively have opted in to learning. Not just your top students, but everyone is on board. This is a magic moment for teachers. It signals the start of a time when deep learning is possible and the moment when the class takes off and is capable of soaring to new heights. Getting students to opt in is no easy task.

I normally set about trying to nudge and influence the class to move toward this choice from the first day. It only happens after weeks and sometimes months of teaching relevant lessons, promoting and nurturing student agency, building relationships, building confidence, promoting the growth mindset, and more. By the way, Letters to a Pre-Scientist is a major part of me influencing students to opt in, because it gives them an authentic audience for their writing. Anyway, this year, I thought to myself, “Will I even recognize the “opt in” moment? Will it even happen?” There are pre-existing issues that distance learning is exacerbating that put the “opt in” moment in jeopardy.

These issues are the digital divide and the achievement gap. The digital divide and the achievement gap have always been closely related, but now they overlap in obvious and unavoidable ways. Families with low-bandwidth connections and older less-powerful devices are frequently frustrated with technology. Unfortunately, this technology is currently their only access to education. So, when the internet is slow, so is their education. You need them to learn with cameras on because you know it increases engagement, but it also hogs the bandwidth and makes the connection unstable.

I’m searching for a solution. My thinking: I don’t need their cameras on if I know they’re watching me. But how do I get them to watch me? How can I build and develop an audience without seeing them? Some people do. So I turned my attention to YouTube. Some of the YouTube influencers know how to do this. I need to start paying attention to them. I need to teach like a YouTube influencer.

So I’ve started watching. I take notes. I am trying to transform my teaching to be more like an experience you might have on your favorite YouTube channel. PewDiePie and Ryan Higa are the ones I watch the most. From them I’ve learned to keep the pace fast, be a lot more informal during instruction, make jokes, highlight and celebrate my mistakes, and be more emotive. I’m a novice, but I’m getting better. And I don’t have to be a bigtime YouTube influencer. PewDiePie has 107 million subscribers! I only need to influence 28 people!

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Written by long-time LPS teacher Kevin Ohama, published November 23, 2020


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