Invasion of the Memes: The Rise of the VSCO Girl

What to make of this? Since the first day of school, I’ve been hearing references and seeing references to being a ‘VSCO Girl’ in some of my students’ work and discussions. I did a quick search, and found that VSCO is a photo filtering app, and when I asked one of my students if calling themselves a VSCO Girl was related to photography and app filters, they gave me a look of confusion.

So, eh, no, maybe not?

Yet, sort of.

Their own explanation of what VSCO Girls meant was confusing to me, something about scrunchies and hydro-bottles and clothes, and so I decided I needed to do a little more research.  Doing so uncovered this summer-long viral meme of the VSCO Girl that had been completely under my radar. (To be fair, I am a middle age white man with three boys)

Centered mostly on Tik Tok, but now moving over to Instagram and YouTube and SnapChat, being a VSCO Girl is related to how a girl perceives themselves, and apparently, certain products and clothing are key elements.

Another element of this is the saying and typing of “sksksksk” (which seems to stem from slamming fingers on the keyboard or keypad) and “And I oop.”  (A meme reaction people use to show surprise on social media.) VSCO stands for Visual Supply Co. – the business which invented the app that sparked the meme that fed the movement.

One site, StayHipp, described it this way:

A VSCO girl is someone who is active on the VSCO app and/or whose style matches the aesthetics of VSCO. This trend has grown to the extent that “VSCO” is used as an adjective to characterize something or someone who embodies a VSCO girl lifestyle.

The VSCO girl trend is largely based on owning a specific set of items including Birkenstocks, scrunchies, hydro flasks, metal straws, and anything from Brandy Mellville. Many of the items associated with the trend are brand-specific and may be pricy, but things like homemade friendship bracelets and oversized T-shirts are just as important to the trend as AirPods and Instax cameras are. Each individual has the power to put their own spin on this trend, whether it’s through their attitude, style, social media presence, or just the good vibes they radiate.

Most importantly, being a VSCO girl, or even just dabbling in the trend is about keeping a positive outlook and having fun! — via StayHipp

It then goes on to list all of the objects that a VSCO Girl might have, and the cost, and how to buy them.

  • Birkenstock shoes
  • Scrunchie hair ties
  • Hydroflask water bottles
  • Brandy Melville clothing
  • Instagram-able meals
  • Metal straws
  • Slip on Vans shoes
  • Choker necklaces
  • Multiple rings worn at once
  • Friendship bracelets
  • Polaroid cameras
  • Pastel nail polish
  • Mario Badescu skincare products
  • Fjällräven backpacks
  • Stickers on laptops and water bottles
  • Carmex lip balm

Which makes me think this is all part of some larger Product Influencer Campaign, to sell stuff to young girls by targeting their Girl Identity through social media. Which makes me wary of the trend, yet I’m amazed at how much the concept has filtered through my entire sixth grade classes in just a few weeks of summer. In a small activity yesterday, many tried to add sksksksks and I Oop into what they were writing. That includes boys as well as girls, which makes me wonder if the meme is turning into something else altogether.

A piece at Slate, in which the writer interviews some high school teenage girls, indicates that the whole VSCO Girl concept can be seen in two lenses — one way is that some girls view it as a connector point through social media, a way to “fit in” through style and choice, and another way is some girls see it as a way to mock the whole consumer-driven marketplace, making fun of the idea of products defining a girl. (And did you know there are not just VSCO Girls, but also Soft Girls and e-Girls?)

For the teens I talked to, most said being called a VSCO girl was a bad thing, something to be avoided. They were mixed on whether anyone would own up to being one or proudly proclaim her VSCO girl status, or any strong connection with it, to the world. — from Slate

Why do I have a sense that these two competing concepts of empowering girls and mocking girls, making its way over social media, are going to collide and the girls who just want to fit in are going to be the very ones who are going to get the most hurt?

How do I have a meaningful discussion about trends like this to give my students the ability to make decisions about social media and memes and empower them to question the viral nature of their world?

I suppose I can do that best by empowering them to be critical of the world, and to think on the power of real friendships, real connections, real people. I want the wonderful girls who spend their days in my classroom with me as writers and readers and members of our community to be true to themselves, and not just become some product of influence from the technology they use.

Peace (confused but trying),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sharing Songwriting Notebooks

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I appreciate that so early in the year, I have already started to make some strong connections with students.

Yesterday, one of my students told me in the morning that they had “something to show me” but we didn’t get around whatever that was until the afternoon. I met the student in the hallway coming back to our classroom, and reminded them of our earlier conversation. They asked me to hold on a second, and then rummaged through the backpack to pull out a small notebook.

“My notebook,” the student told me, “for writing songs.”

I asked permission to look, and was eagerly granted it, and my student noted that there is only one song underway. I, of course, celebrated that they had a songwriting notebook and expressed appreciation for sharing with me. They apologized for the messiness and for having only the one song, but I celebrated both.

I know there is a vulnerability with sharing words and songs not yet completed. I’m the same way. I also know that finding another songwriter to share with is special, too. And I know this student was trusting me because of the fact that we both write songs, and that we both play guitar in order to write songs.

I may dig around this morning and find one of my messy songwriting notebooks, too, just to extend the sharing together as songwriters making a mess of notebook pages, all in the name of writing and of making music, and of deepening the connections as writers so early in the year.

Maybe I’ll even share this photo my workspace …

Songwriting Work Space

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Begin at the Start (again)

Today will be Day Three. Already. We had students for two days, then a long weekend, and now a short week. In some ways, it’s a perfect way to start the new school year, with a slow roll forward.

It’s too early to get a good feel for this crew of sixth graders, but they seem a bit lively, a bit more social for the start of the year than usual, and a little less focused on instructions. I’ll need remind myself to slow down a bit, although we had great success the other day with activating all 70-plus Google accounts, getting them into Google Classroom spaces and beginning to work on a basic slideshow. There were quite a few steps to the process. Everyone is in! (high five)

I mostly have the names of my homeroom students down, and now need to begin to learn the other three class full of student names — this is always a challenge at the start of the year, but I find being systemic about it helps. Names are important. The sooner I have that down, the better I can begin to understand each student as a person.

This week, we’ll begin to talk about stories, and I will be reading aloud Rikki Tikki Tavi as a means to frame discussions around literary elements, as well as just letting them listen (and sketchnote ideas) to a story with a low bar entry point — my own reading, and our group discussions.

Over the weekend, I started to have a chat with a National Writing Project colleague from the West Coast who asked if we could connect classrooms this year for some projects, and I immediately began to think about the Write Out project for the National Day on Writing. I am hoping their classes and my classes can share images and stories of the spaces where they live, and get to know both sides of the country a bit.

It’s going to be a great year ….

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

 

Yap.Net: An Invitation to Join a Community of Writers and Artists

YapNet SocialMediaAn experiment of sorts is underway. It’s a new online space for adult writers and teachers and artists and others to come together, in a safe and closed environment, to share work and connect, and support, each other in their endeavors.

Yap.Net is the brainchild of Geoff G., whose work with young writers through the Young Writers Project, based in Vermont but with a global reach, has opened up many possibilities for emerging authors. Now, with Yap.Net (tagline: A community of creative people who share unfinished work and ideas for feedback), Geoff hopes to extend the same invitation to adults.

Yap.Net is free, and closed, and designed for members to share drafts of works in progress, but also to serve as a publishing and sharing space. You can register here, but know that Geoff approves all members, as another barrier to the online riff-raff that sometimes filters into spaces.

Even if you have your own blogging space, as I do, the addition of Yap.Net opens up other possibilities. In just a few months time, there are already hundreds of posts and hundreds of supportive comments for the first wave of participants. There are themed challenges as options and a variety of different media on display. Geoff envisions an active and supportive network, and you are invited in, too.

Come join Yap.Net and see for yourself. See you there!

Peace (in writing it down),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Considering the Quiet

John Spencer has yet another intriguing post up, this time about actively and intentionally noticing the way sound in our classrooms play a significant role in student learning. He explores this from a couple of different angles, and I suggest you read the post he has written entitled “Sometimes a Quieter Classroom is Actually the Answer.” We (me) don’t often think much in terms of sound levels of our learning spaces, other than “that’s too loud” or “that’s too quiet.”

John notes that a noisy classroom does not translate into more active learning in this age of collaborative/cooperative learning. Neither does a silent classroom indicate that all students are working independently. Finding balance, and being intentional about the physical space of the classroom is one way to address this. Differentiating the classroom space for sound? Interesting.

This year, I’ve had one of the largest ratios of loud to quiet kids than I can remember, and I found myself struggling often to balance the spectrum of extroverts — who enter the classroom nearly yelling at their friends, gushing with news of the morning — with the introverts — those who settle in with a book or some work amid the morning chaos and try to ignore the noise. The extroverts are not mean; they’re social and excited and just loud. The introverts are not always passive; they often seem bemused by the antics, as quiet observers.

So, you know, it’s complicated.

I’ve tried different approaches to moderate the noise that often emerges from any learning activity, attuned to the quieter of my kids. And don’t get me wrong — we’ve had long stretches of intense quiet, particularly of writing quiet — the solitude within a crowd where a writer finds their words in stories, poems, essays or even daily writing activities. I enforce that quiet pretty strictly.

But other times? Man. It’s like I become a sound fighter, reminding people as I wander the room to “keep it down” and “you seem to be shouting at the person next to you” and “respect the space.” The lull lingers, and then is lost. There are times when we could barely hear the office announcements, and this is at the end of the day, when students are lined up and ready to head home. They’re so loud, they can’t hear the dismissal.

I’m going to mull over John’s points as this year ends — a sound audit of the classroom? Intriguing. More choice for students to work in quiet or active spaces? Possibly.

I am also sitting (quietly) with John’s (a self-proclaimed introvert) observation: Every student needs some quiet.

In music, there’s a deliberate symbol for rest. It’s not a break from the song. It’s a part of the music. But it is silent, and it is powerful. I think we need the same thing in the classroom. In a culture of noise, sometimes relevance isn’t more noise. Sometimes it’s more silence. — John Spencer

Peace (shhh),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Fortnite Effect

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One family told the story of their child, our student, breaking their bedroom television and then suggesting to the parents that they not replace it. Another said they had curtailed time spent on it after listening in to conversations. Another said they were going home right after our meeting, to delete the program. Another admitted they did not know much about what their child was doing in it but they witnessed a change in personality that worried them.

The video game of Fortnite unexpectedly became a theme of conversations across meetings with families last night for our spring conferences, each time brought up by the parents and not by us teachers. Clearly, for many families, the Fortnite phenomenon is causing concern over the emotional health of their children and the impact on school.

I am usually one of those who argues that there are some virtues in many gaming platforms, and I have constructed an entire teaching unit around video game design as a way to help my students see gaming as a possible way to compose in a media storytelling mode, to shift them from player to builder.

Of course, I’ve watched as Fortnite became the “go to” game for many, girls and boys, over the last year or so. I even wrote a few times about the noticing the emergence of Fortnite.

There are some positives to Fortnite worth knowing. It is a communal experience, where players often work in teams to help each other survive. The violence of the dying, while baked into the game, is not often explicit, unlike some games where the blood and gore of killing and dying can be alarming. There are easy entry points into the game, and it is cross-platform.

But … it has become clear that the social aspect of the game — particularly the chat function of social interaction — can also be its worst feature, as gamers use the physical distance from each other, and the possibility of unaccountability for language and words, to create a negative element to an addictive environment (Fortnite developers are brilliant in leveraging the many psychological ways to keep players, playing, for hours.). All the things one may worry about — bullying, peer pressure, profanity, etc. — now seem to play out in the Fortnite battlefields, and sometimes spill over into the school day.

In a few cases, teachers and parents could delineate either a decline in work quality (child started using Fortnite) or an increase in quality and happiness (child stopped using Fortnite) so clearly that it was rather startling, to be honest. It’s a small sample pool, to be honest, but still … something to mull over.

I’ve noticed the trend of playful remarks about Fortnite shifting this year into more negative, cutting remarks about playing ability and skins and more. It may just be this particular cohort of students — and there are one or two students who clearly are the leaders, admired by others for their Fortnite prowess yet more negative than positive to others, using their social cache in the game platform in all the wrong ways. When a handful of parents all bring the game up in a school conference, it suddenly feels as if we as teachers should find a way to address it.

I intend to gather more resources about screen use and game effect on growing minds and on Fortnite, in particular, in hopes of making a resource for parents who may be struggling with this issue and need a way to have a conversation at home. And I will be thinking of how I might use our upcoming Argumentative Writing unit to tackle Fortnite.

If you have ideas or know of resources, please leave them in the comment bin. Thank you.

Peace (turn off to turn on),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Making Music (again)

Sold Out band practice(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

It’s about two weeks until the first gig for my newest band — Sold Out! — and our practices are mostly running the set list front to back with few, if any, stops. (Our first gig is on April 13 as part of a Band Jam fundraiser for a local animal shelter. We go on at 7 p.m., if you are around. More details here)

Last night, everything was really coming together in practice. We’ve played together long enough — and worked on the set list thoroughly — to understand the flow, and spaces, and the way each of us has our part in each song. Our parts make the sound of our band.

I’m getting excited to play out live again after quite a hiatus with forming the band.

Sold Out! band icon

Peace (in rock and roll),
Kevin

PS — we’re trying to drum up a base of support via our FB page so that bars and local festivals see we are legit (it can be tricky for new bands to get started playing out), so if you feel so inclined, give us a like at our new FB page for Sold Out. And if you live in Western Massachusetts, see you on the dance floor!

 

Slice of Life: One Test Too Many

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

There are days when there is nothing worse than the knowledge of an upcoming meeting. It sometimes means making sub plans, traveling, disrupting the flow of the day, harboring doubt about the reality of something tangible happening.

Yesterday, I am pleased to report, was not one of those days, as a group of elementary reading specialists and a few sixth grade classroom teachers (like myself) gathered with colleagues from our regional middle school to find some common ground on reading data that will help them to better understand incoming students (the ones we have in our classrooms right now).

The idea of the meeting began with our middle school colleagues asking that we administer a new reading assessment two times before the end of the year with our sixth graders, so they could collate data as they think about classes and programs and interventions. The challenge is that each of our elementary schools already does reading assessments, but not all the same ones. For example, we do both Benchmark Reading and have started using Fastbridge aReading. Others do others, although Benchmark is a common thread among some of us.

The school principal expertly running the meeting pushed back a bit on the idea of adding yet another reading assessment, urging the middle school colleagues to consider using what we already have. As the cordial discussion ensued, I found myself thinking: we need more meeting like this in our sprawling school district (five Prek-6 sending schools across a large geographic area, and one massive 7-12 regional middle/high school).

More meetings? What am I? Crazy?

But the conversations were insightful and the solutions were collaborative. We began to map out an action plan forward that will give our colleagues what they need for better understanding incoming students without burdening us, and more important, without adding yet another reading assessment to our students’ lives. An email update from the principal in my bin this morning pulled all of the ideas together into a thoughtful analysis.

When a gathering like yesterday’s is productive, and the focus remains on what is best for our students — all of our students — it’s hard not to walk away without thinking: this is how we make progress — together, in collaboration.

Peace (meet, the act),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Head in the Door

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

He stuck his head in the door. A colleague from another grade. We don’t see each other all that often because his classroom is in another wing of the building, up a set of stairs.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said, “that for a paper for my class (for administrator licensing), we had to write about digital learning in our building where we teach. I focused on the EPencil.”

The Electronic Pencil is our sixth grade home base for digital literacy learning and sharing.

“You’re doing some great things with the kids,” he said, “and I wish more of us were, too. Sometimes, we do things that we think no one ever sees. We still do them, anyway. I appreciate what you are doing with our students. Thank you. Great work.”

And then he was gone, but I sat there for a few minutes at my desk, pausing in my pile of papers that were helping me with the approaching report card deadline, and glowed a bit in appreciation for his gesture as one colleague to another.

The noticing is a powerful thing. It only took a few seconds but those few seconds set the tone for the rest of my day. I need to remember to do more of that, too.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: My Other March Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

Yes, I did my NCAA bracket (actually, I did two this year — one where I went with my gut on a few possible upsets and the other, I used a computer model to set the grids, just to see what happens). But yesterday, I was deep into another kind of charting system for another event that takes place this time of year, at least for us at my school.

Quidditch.

I won’t go into all our rules of our game (which differ quite a bit from the college game, as we play inside the gym — here is a video, if you are curious) but my role as coach is both to cheer and encourage team play AND determine who plays what position for each squad in a balanced and fair way. We don’t let our athletes get all the playing time and we don’t let our wallflowers watch from the sidelines. Everyone plays, equal amounts of time.

Coordinating positions and playing time is tricky business, and this is what my dining room table looked like last night as I worked on three different tournament games, each with seven squads, and each squad with six main positions and four supporting positions.

Quidditch March Madness (making squads)

I think I finally got something approaching successful. We’ll see. Tomorrow is our all-day Quidditch Tournament. This is the 20th year of our tournament for sixth graders, a unique (and loud) experience that they will long remember, no matter who wins the Quidditch Cup tomorrow.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin