Friday, January 06, 2012

Sometimes Lo-Fi Is The Answer

by John T. Spencer

It's a rough afternoon. My directions were too long and too specific and the students acted out in boredom. I took it personally and yelled. I'm trying to rethink my lesson for the following day with the knowledge that the Clipboard Crew will be stopping by in an effort to see the magical formula that leads to higher test scores. I should be honored, but I'm terrified. I'm doubtful. I'm doubtful about my inability to create the kind of story they're looking for.

I turn on the Iron and Wine cover of the "Waiting for Superman." The song is the perfect marriage of a broken, lo-fi*, acoustic sound with the themes of humility and expectations. I'm reminded that we're human. We're all broken (even the Clipboard Crew) and the amazing story is that powerful things happen in humble places.

It has me thinking about the notion of lo-fi and the concept that sometimes less is more:

Tools: My students blog and podcast and tweet and all that. And yet, give them a composition book and let them draw in it, sketch in it, duct tape it, organize it however they want and their Individual Learning Journals become a powerful statement about minimalism, humanity and the power of low-tech learning. If the Eco House project was a tech-infused Postal Service tune, their journals were Sufjan Stevens with a banjo singing Casimir Pulaski Day in a way that would make you weep.

Directions: The lo-fi approach reminds me that there is a power in simplicity. When I listen to Iron and Wine, I am reminded of the need to slow down and allow for additional mental space.  Fewer directions. Fewer assignments. It's often where students find the autonomy to personalize their learning. An indie classroom should have indie thinkers and indie thinkers should be able to customize their learning.

Discipline: One thing I love about the acoustic, minimalist sound is that it retains the human voice. I don't want a discipline management system. I want a relationship that respects the human voice.

Approach: I think it's interesting that Iron and Wine has brought back a pastoral, naturalist lyricism (that never really left). It has me thinking that the natural, the pastoral, the outdated might just be the vintage, the classic and the sustainable that we're missing in our standardized Pop 40 system.  It's not trendy by any means, but a philosophical discussion, a confusing parable or even a choral reading or a powerful story all have a place in the 21st Century Classroom.

*I know some people would have a fit with me calling Iron and Wine lo-fi. I get it. Lo-fi is often used in metal (especially 80's lo-fi) but I'm really intrigued by the acoustic lo-fi sound.


  1. John,
    I have been lurking on this blog for a year or so, enjoying the conversation. I may just be old, or out of the loop, but this sentence "If the Eco House project was a tech-infused Postal Service tune, their journals were Sufjan Stevens with a banjo singing Casimir Pulaski Day in a way that would make you weep." has so many references I don't understand. I get the overall idea, but wow! So many things I have not a clue about...ouch...

    1. Let me try to a fellow lurker (for about a year as well). The Postal Service is a short-lived band that played electronic-based dance/pop/indie stuff. It was beautiful music, but complex and had lots of bleeps and blips. Sufjan Stevens is a generally acoustic prolific singer-songwriter, who has a folksy simple sound to much of his music. The references point to that if the Eco House Project was HIGH tech all the way....their journals are as low tech as is gets...yet beautiful. At least that's my take.

  2. What I forgot to include in the previous comment was my appreciation for your point about the individual flexibility and infinitely customizable experience that the low-tech, paper/pen methods offer.

  3. Hi!
    My name is Heather and I work for Worth Ave. Group. We’re currently holding a contest for K-12 teachers to win grants for their schools, and iPads or iPods for their classrooms. If you’re interested in participating, feel free to email me or visit the link I’ve posted below.
    Have a great day!


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