Genre: A Doorway to Cultural Studies


As a Communications Technology teacher, its of pressing importance to ensure that students are not only tech savvy but culturally literate. This is at the essence of a program that encourages students to be effective communicators who can decode media all while producing artifacts for and with meaning. All of this presents a unique opportunity for students to explore themselves and the world in which they live and at the same time, experience the deep satisfaction of creative output.

As a Communications Technology teacher for nearly 15 years, I would argue that there seems to be less focus on the Communications.  As a product of the program way back when I was in high school, the traditional classroom landscape tends to focus on the technology and less the “critical literacy” aspect of learning. Personally, I’m a firm believer that a students technical know-how in today’s digital accessible age is less impressive or pressing than their ability to be cultural astute. This is not to say that technology is not important. With many students readily exploring with creative ways to exploit technology, its important to recognize the need enriched opportunities to explore context and meaning.

Take for example, an encounter I had a few days ago with a supply teacher. Stopping by my classroom at the sight of Ghost-face from Scream 2 ( I love to teach /screen with the door open),the teacher asked what course I was teaching. When I said Comm-Tech, the teacher stood puzzled (literally in silence) for a moment. I then went on to explain that at the core of my program is a critical understanding of media artifacts through the lens of genre. He asked me why genre was so important in a Comm-Tech course. I went on to explain that genre, whether it be film, television or comic books, is a mirror to ourselves at any cultural time.

Genre is our shared experience. Genre is a cultural time capsule. To listen to the West Coast Rap of the 1980s is to be acutely aware of the black experience in ghettoized communities in California. To watch Hollywood action films of the 1980s is to be sold a strictly pro-American, hyper masculine narrative, in which colonial figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger were supreme. With this, I’m of the mindset that genre studies as cultural studies is a social science that serves the critical needs of students as global citizens. If anything, recent films such as Black Panther and Get Out prove this. 

So, as he remained curious about our exam screenings of Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3, I was reminded of the perception that Comm-Tech has in many schools. Frankly, it can and should be more than logo design and video production for the sake of production. It needs to be all that and more – logo design as it speaks to semiotics and video production as it speaks to genre and meaning. Such a framework will challenge students to produce with meaning and thus find themselves in their critical and practical studies.

Speaking about all of this, recently on May 29, I hosted the 5th Annual Ignite Digital Media Showcase. A celebration of all student work from Chaminade’s Communications Technology program, the highlight of Ignite is the screening of student short films on the big screen. From an understanding of Andrew Sarris’ Auteur Theory to exploring genre, the films are a testament to both student creative digital skills and deep critical thinking.

The screening can be found below – enjoy!

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , ,

Endgame Avenges the Theatrical Experience


Over the course of the past eleven years and twenty-two films in total as of this date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved into what seems to be an irreplaceable framework for global storytelling of mythical proportions. From the first MCU film Iron Man (2008) to the newly released Avengers: Endgame the impact of the MCU cannot be understated. From rival studios including Warner Bros with with their DCEU (DC Extended Universe) to Universal’s poorly realized and promptly canceled Dark Universe, the idea of a shared narrative seemed incomprehensible over a short decade ago. Within an industry culture of sequels and trilogies, the MCU was completely transformative in not only creating contained trilogies (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor) but also interwoven stories where on-screen characters share in each others film narratives and we the audience grow continuously invested in the in the focused and broader “universe” narrative. In recognizing the cultural depth of the MCU and in reflecting on audience response to Avengers: Endgame, who said the movie going experience is dead? As the film is projected to gross approximately $350 million domestically in three days, its safe to say that the theatrical experience was and is being avenged.

A deep look:

Within the span of the last ten years, the MCU has been heavily implicated within the debate pertaining to the decline of the theatrical experience or rather the changing landscape of the traditional movie going milieu. Whereas the box-office of the late 90s and early 2000s represented a diverse palette of movie genres of varying budgets, the post Iron Man landscape seemed to indicate a shift in the studio output.  With the increasing success of superhero infused movies and importantly Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012), the economic model of production and distribution leaned towards “event films with universe potential.” All of this, coupled with the increased access of streaming services, created a perfect storm for the theatrical debate.

Basically, are people still going to the movies?

Yes they are.

With Avengers: Infinity War last spring and Crazy Rich Asians last summer, the movie theatre can still be a viable shared and diverse cultural space. With the right movie, made-well, people will leave the comfort of their streaming service and head to their multiplex.

Specifically, when looking at the gargantuan box-office numbers of this weekend (with a potential $1 billion world wide) of Avengers:Endgame, the film is a reminder that the theatrical experience is fully alive and well. However, it’s vitality depends on the stories being told and the the way in which audiences are invested in in those stories. As evident with Endgame and the multiple screenings I experienced (three screenings at three separate theatres), the film speaks to the magic of experiencing movies like this on the big screen with a collective.  Unlike the Netflix experience that is confined to one’s phone, tablet, computer or home television, the big screen and sharing time with strangers in a sold out theatre is truly magical. Sharing in laughter, bewilderment and tears is the magic of movies. It’s a stark reminder that the medium of film if truly universal and that the theatrical experience can never truly be replaced by at-home streaming.

With the right movie, characters and cultural circumstance, the coming together at a local multiplex is not the thing of the past or a reality faded into dust. Far from it. We just need movies, epic in scale or small, that matter.

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The Us in Jordan Peele’s “US”


This weekend I once again indulged in the horror sensibilities of Jordan Peele. Like with Get Out two years ago, I needed to see US twice opening weekend with the promise of further viewings. Now with his second directorial effort, it seems that being provoked and enticed by Peele’s nuanced understanding of genre is now part of his cinematic tradition. This is to say that US is not merely the follow up to Get Out but importantly the new Jordan Peele film. He is now in the ranks of auteur filmmakers including Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino. He’s top billing along with his stars.

Recognizing that Us is a Jordan Peele film is the first step to a sound critical appreciation of the film.

Let me explain.

As I walked out of a showing on Friday night, I overheard an audience member asking his companion, “ How are we suppose to understand what just happened?” I wanted to interject and share that to understand the film, is to understand Peele and to understand Peele is to understand genre itself.

The notion of genre is at the heart of Peele’s rise as a filmmaker worth talking about. Peele understands the cultural vibrations of genre filmmaking. This is what made Get Out so very socially astute and equally Us. Genre for Peele is a mechanism in which his “social horror” tales exist both in terms of access and personal criticism. As demonstrated with Us, which is more akin to the aesthetic of horror than Get Out, Peele knows how to work within the genre with a mastery of context and assured style. From use of lighting to camera composition and sound effects, he gives us an audience the horror aesthetic that we understand and know. Its with this that both Get Out and Us are accessible; not high brow art fair but films that easily entertain regardless of demographic. As author, filmmaker and academic Tananarive Due recently noted on Twitter, “US boasted a $70 million opening weekend, a new record for an original film. It’s further evidence that white audiences can see their humanity reflecting in black protagonists too.”

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Along with the horror aesthetic, its Peele’s personal voice that resonants through both Get Out and Us. As writer and director, Peele has become an auteur that leverages the history and cultural resonance of the horror genre to enable his personal voice. As such, these are personal films that also allow for rich dialogue and discourse post-screening. To understand Us is to understand Peele.

With all of this, to “understand what just happened,” is to recognize that genre rises from real world context. Specifically, horror’s tradition is very much about us; our individual and / or shared anxieties and overt reflections on culture and experience. This is what made Get Out so rich as a film that rose out of the Black Lives Matters moment, the Trump/Clinton campaign and was equally impacted by the past, present and future as it pertains to race and representation. With this, to understand Us is to reflect on us – our shared selves and more.

Who are we?
What masks do we where?
Is our “real self” real?
Who is terror?

To risk spoiling the film, I won’t go into the scene by scene analysis of the movie that’s truly needed to appreciate Peele’s Us. However, I will say that Peele goes beyond Get Out with this film. It’s not just a film about blackness and representation but all of us – who we are, who we try to be and our shared cultural experiences.

For a fantastic read on the film, please visit Tananarive Due’s essay titled Jordan Peele’s Us: Black Horror Comes Out of the Shadows

Posted in Film Theory, Movies and Television, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

#SelfReg: An Inquiry Reflection

inquiryOver the course of my learning as a student in the Master’s of Education course “Self-Regulated Inquiry,” at Queen’s University, the realization that goal setting is an enabler of self-regulation was most pressing. It was with this critical new knowledge that I’ve worked over the course of the term to establish a Distal Goal (an ultimate level of performance) and Proximal Goals (preliminary level of achievement) that speaks deeply to my vocation as a Catholic educator. As such, my work in establishing a self-regulated inquiry was very much connected to my students and their own relationship with goal setting, self-regulation and importantly a sense of self within the landscape of education. 

For my inquiry, my Distal Goal was to evolve my instructional practice to include a focus on student goal setting and self-regulation as a mode to enhance academic achievement along with enabling culturally responsive teaching and learning. With a primary focus in working with Gr. 11 College/University Communications Technology students, my goal was to foster a learning space that is student centric both in pedagogy and curriculum.

To achieve this goal, I worked to establish Proximal Goals that mapped a potential journey to success. Within this context and within the framework of my own self-regulation, I had to be cognizant of my Distal Goal throughout the experience and remap my journey where needed in order to meet the needs of students. As my goal of building and sustaining a culturally responsive teaching and learning space was the ultimate outcome, my Proximal Goals had to be moldable as a result of shifting practice as aligned to where students were in their goal setting and self-regulation journey. An overview of my Distal and Proximal Goals can be found below.

Monitoring Tool  - DISTAL GOAL.jpg

As students developed individualized goals and self-regulated, the plan to be responsive became realized. In working to reimagine both pedagogical and curriculum outcomes, a learning space that spoke to the realness of students was cultivated. This was determined through my continuous dialogue with students that served the promise and intention of Assessment For and As learning. 

Assessment For and As learning speaks to being responsive to students and their relationship both with a particular learning task and learning as a practice that transcends a particular course.  As noted in Growing Success, “assessment plays a critical role in teaching and learning and should have as its goal the development of students as independent and autonomous learners. As an integral part of teaching and learning, assessment should be planned concurrently with instruction and integrated seamlessly into the learning cycle to inform instruction, guide next steps, and help teachers and students monitor students’ progress towards achieving learning goals.

In integrating individualized Goal Setting and Self Regulation with intention, the development of “students as independent and autonomous learners,” most definitely became a reality.  The video below highlights the the benefits of intentionally embedding goal setting and self-regulation as a meaningful classroom practice  that shapes viable achievement outcomes. Specifically, in regards to the goals that students share in the video, my responsiveness is directly linked to their relationship with learning. Moving forward, the individual learning goals established by students will be integrated as part of a formal assessment that comes to life during the final exam.

There will be a section on the exam where students activate their respective goal. As a result, with twenty-eight students in the course, there will be twenty-eight individualized goal centric sections on the final examination. This promises to speak directly to students key learning and is an example of how my practice works to enable cultural responsive teaching and learning. 

As the students share their critical learning reflections which speak to cultural responsive teaching and learning it is important to note and make reference to the critical mentorship I received. Primarily, Dr. Marlyn Morris who I have had the pleasure to collaborate with, has deeply shaped my sense of cultural responsive teaching and learning as a significant practice that not only speaks to individual students but also allows students to learn from the cultural experiences of their peers. This is not to say that culture is defined within a traditional context of race and ethnicity but rather culture as shaped by family narrative, sense of self and a students’ relationship with learning. This is echoed in the Ministry of Education’s Building Capacity Series that highlights that “culture goes much deeper than typical understandings of ethnicity, race and/or faith. It encompasses broad notions of similarity and difference and it is reflected in our students’ multiple social identities and their ways of knowing and of being in the world. In order to ensure that all students feel safe, welcomed and accepted, and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning, schools and classrooms must be responsive to culture.”

Here is video I produced for the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association featuring Dr. Morris. In this video she speaks to cultural responsive teaching and learning. The key ideas of this video was at the heart of my Distal Goal and her support throughout the inquiry helped to shape new thinking pertaining to what constitutes deep learning within a classroom space.  

As the inquiry comes to a close with the conclusion of the course, my practice will continue to evolve. Speaking directly to my own sense of self-regulation, I now have a critical understanding that Distal Goals are of paramount importance and that monitoring one’s journey (through establishing and modifying Proximal Goals), is very much self-regulation in and of itself.

For other key inquiry reflections, please visit the links below.

With Self-Regulation Intention Matters.

Finding the Success in Failure

What my son taught me about Self-Regulation

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

With Self-Regulation Intention Matters.


In my current Master’s of Education course amply titled “Self Regulation Inquiry,” there has been a number of pressing moments of realization that speaks to both my teaching and student learning.

  1. What I thought I knew about Self-Regulation as a classroom teacher with 13 years of experience was quite limited. Although I valued the importance of Self-Regulation as a learning skill, the understanding of goal setting as an urgent factor of Self-Regulation was something I was missing. I was challenged to explore what goal setting looks like through the context of Distal Goals and Proximal Goals. In doing this, it became pressingly aware that although classroom learning goals based on curriculum expectations are established the personal goals of students were not truly activated.
  2. For there to be effective Self-Regulation there must a plan for integration as a mechanism to reach goals. Based on my course learning, you truly can’t have Self-Regulation without the establishment of a goal; an end game if you will. As such, as a teacher responsible to assess Self-Regulation as a learning skill as indicated on the Ontario Report Card then its upon me to ensure that I have something meaningful to assess; not just a letter grade for the sake of a letter. As such, to intentionally integrate Self-Regulation as a teaching practice is to provide students with intentional opportunities to establish goals that are managed as a result of Self-Regulation skills.

So, why does this matter?

Whether you’re currently a classroom teacher or a school administer, the fostering of Self-Regulation is by extension the enabling of a global competency that is truly transferable beyond the educational milieu.

If our goal as educators is to nurture students to have the “entrepreneurial spirit” as shared in Achieving Excellence A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario, then students must have tool kit that allows them to not merely find doors of opportunity but importantly create their own. In a global world composed of great civil and economic diversity, students must evolve as thinkers who are acutely aware of how they think and do. Self-Regulation is being cognizant of one’s end destination and importantly the mapping (or re-mapping) of the journey.

This practice of establishing an end destination is a principle that can be easily embedded in classrooms or as professional learning. Whether it is a grade 11 Comm-Tech student establishing a learning goal that is specific to who they are or a teacher establishing an Annual Learning Plan, the goal is essential to foster Self-Regulation and thus effective Self-Regulation is urgent to meet the goal. Presenting these two examples is to reinforce that Self-Regulation is part of the everyday and is a learning skill that must be taught with purpose, time and patience.

In regards to my own Self-Regulation inquiry, my goal for my current course inquiry has been to intentionally integrate goal setting and Self-Regulation assessment in my Gr. 11 Comm-Tech class as a mode to enable my practice of cultural responsive teaching and learning. This recognizes that cultural transcends race and ethnicity but also speaks to the culture of student learning, student interests, how students learn and their sense of self. As such, culture is also a student’s respective relationship with learning and school itself. By establishing a climate of goal setting and Self-Regulation at the onset of my course (the start of semester 2), I can work to meet students needs through their practice of self-regulation.

So, what do student think?

My students seem to have bought into the practice. Mainly, this is because the goal they have set will play a key role in their learning. For example, a student who has shared that they want to grow in their critical and cultural understanding of media in order to provide such thinking to their own creations, will have learning tasks geared specifically to them. As such, in having twenty-eight students, I will be shaping twenty-eight personalized and extending learning opportunities that speak to said goals and support the journey of learning the students have established for themselves.

As highlighted in the video below, there are a number of successes but one big challenge. For most of my students the practice of goal setting and thus Self-Regulation has not been established in other courses of study. I don’t share this a a punitive comment as I’m on my own inquiry which is new and speaks to my own important next steps as a teacher. However, their sharing speaks to the need for more and shared understanding and activation of goal setting and Self-Regulation across all formal learning areas.

Thinking forward, this could very well be a PLC that speaks to the next school year; exploring Self-Regulation as a skill that is truly transformational.



Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

From Input to Output: #Medialiteracy is a Critical Literacy


This past Friday I had the unique and privileged opportunity to facilitate a workshop for a group of Toronto Catholic District School Board colleagues. In coming together as part of a self-directed professional development day, it was a humbling experience to spend time with people who selected to be engaged in a shared and active learning experience.

Focusing on the idea of media literacy as a mode to enable cultural responsive teaching and learning, the workshop provided teachers with a critical overview of not only media thinking but doing.

As part of the thinking, teachers were challenged to embrace media literacy as critical literacy that can readily nurture global and thus transferable comminivatice skills and provide a platform in which students can explore real world narratives and importantly share their own. When speaking to media such as popular film through a sense of “realness,” the conversation is not merely about the cultural realities of a particular artifact but the articulation of the student. This is to say that empowering students to shape their stories and share them – regardless of subject or curriculum – is pressing and transformational.

As teachers shared in the learning it was important to ground the context to the everyday. I realized someone in the room could be thinking: How does this connect to me and my curriculum?

Importantly, the students are the curriculum and the opportunity to engage them to share who they are shouldn’t be seemed as an after thought. Whether it is the A within STEAM or a mode to share student experience, media such as video production has a place in all curriculum if utilized with purpose.

The epicentre: the foundation for all of this is in the secondary level in which I teach is the Individual Pathway Plan Portfolio. Such a learning portfolio, if leveraged and designed effectively can be a place where students grow as a effective and skilled communicators along with responsible citizens who share their critical points of view, stories of themselves and reflections on learning. The portfolio, a place that can transcend curation, becomes the distribution space for student articulation.

As shared with my colleagues during the workshop, the start of each course could begin with a mobile video project where students create a 1 minute biography about themselves. This biography then becomes embedded within their portfolio. This allows the portfolio (a media artifact in and of itself) to be not just about learning but the students. This is only one example of how video can become REAL CINEMA that transcends anyone curriculum.

Think about it. With students readily streaming video and intrenched within media culture, how can we pass on including their language with purpose? We have a responsibility to ensure that students move from a place of passive input to active output. 

For more on this, read my article below from The Catholic Teachers Magazine – published by OECTA.

Real Cinema

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