Using Social Media to Create Projects Kids Might Not Hate Doing

Background:  For the past four years, I’ve worked at a one-to-one iPad school, where technology and media usage in the classroom is both expected and facilitated, so these ideas work best where technology (whether it’s a smartphone or a laptop) are allowed for academic purposes.

These techniques can be adapted to  any technology, or can be scaled down to “old school” pen and paper, but if your rapport with your students allows for it, usage of actual social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat should be encouraged.

Since, I am a Literature teacher,  my primary examples will focus on using these apps for assessments in the English/Language Arts classrooms, but many of these ideas can be adapted for various content areas…even Math.  Because yes, Math can be fun.

If you are a teacher who “doesn’t use social media,” I would strongly encourage you to do what I did a few years ago, and just try to figure these apps out.  It took me far too long to figure out what the heck a Snapchat was (I may have read a few WikiHow articles on it) the knowledge will pay off when you find out that you’re inadvertently in one of your student’s Snap Stories. (That’s never fun).

After several awkward conversations that ended with, “why are you asking me this,” I’ve concluded that the bulk of our students’ social media usage is in one of these four apps: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Under each app, I’ve outlined some ideas that I’ve used in my class to make some of my assessments a little less “basic.”

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Snapchat for story telling:

Basic Assignment: The story board.  We’ve all done this: give the students paper and markers and have them create a story board/comic version of a moment in a story, the plot of a text, or a certain scene in a play.  (Le yawn)

Snapchat Assignment: Have students relay their summary of a text, or moment in a story as a Snapchat story.  They can overlay “text” from the books in class to emphasize key dialogue or themes.  There is a sample of this at the bottom of this post.

If you want them to go further than summary, play around with the possibilities: maybe they create a Snapchat story of the events AFTER a novel or story.

Maybe they focus on a secondary character and retell an event through their eyes via a Snap-story.

Or maybe they just stare at you while you explain the assignment, and ask you to repeat yourself, once you ask if you have any questions…it could go either way.

The students can create the stories on the actual Snapchat app.  They can also use Instagram or any other apps which allow them combine text and images/video.

Submission: They can save the stories onto their phones, and email you or Dropbox the files to you.

PS: I still really really don’t understand Snapchat

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Instagram for Poetry Exploration: 

Basic Assignment: The poetry unit.  Many of us have units with pre-selected authors that are set by our departments.  We enable students how to break down the language of a poem, in order to get to its deeper meaning. 

Instagram Assignment: Have students explore modern poets on Instagram.  Here’s a current list of some of the top accounts (please check them out before you suggest them to students).  Either during class (if it’s allowed) or as revision work at home, have students explore the poems/poets.

If a student isn’t on Instagram, these poets’ work usually appear in a Google Image search.

What I like about the poets of Instagram is that they are written for fast consumption.  They’re usually quite succinct, so the language that is used within the poems is ripe with meaning.  Also…a lot of the poems are pretty angsty, so kids tend to not hate them.

What can you do once they’ve found a poet?

Having them go on a language hunt where they look for literary terminology in the poems (such as similes and metaphors) is one of the most approachable ways you can use these texts in your class.

If nothing else, as a teacher, it’s been great to have a constant source of fresh poetry at my fingertips.  So, if this won’t work for your students…it’s a tool you can now use.

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Twitter to Expand Vocabulary: 

Basic Assignment: We have students look up and use synonyms for frequently overused words like “sad,” or “angry, or “bad.” 

Twitter Assignment: Have them re-write Tweets where “weak” or “dead” words are used.  Have them identify the weak uses of language and replace the words with synonyms they look up.  For higher level Language classes, you can have students improve on the syntactical elements of the Tweet as well.

For example, the current US President, Donald Trump, is known for his colloquial and casual approach to Tweeting.  Keeping the audience and purpose of each Tweet in mind, students can alter the diction and syntax of the Tweets in order to alter the tone of the Tweet, while expanding their vocabulary.

Disclaimer: The following examples were found and edited by students at an international campus where political discourse was par for the course in classrooms.  If working in The States, I wouldn’t recommend using the current president as an example, as it could be misconstrued as disrespectful. 

 

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Weak Words:  “best” “haters” “losers”

 

And turn it into something like this:

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Stronger Language (Excuse the poor photoshopping)

You can either do this as a paper assignment where you print out the tweets, or work your way up to your students constructing their own Tweets expressing opinions about current events, which they can then choose to actually put onto Twitter itself.

This is also a good opportunity to talk about representing yourself well on social media (AKA…trying to get them to not become trolls).

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Facebook for help with Life-ing:

I don’t have an assignment for Facebook, but I do have a request: can teachers stop printing out the Facebook Profile templates from 2008 and using them as a characterization activity (where we have the kids create a Facebook profile for a character from the book).

 It’s old, and out-dated, and Facebook doesn’t really look like that anymore.  

What I use it for: Academically, kids and teachers have a lot on their plates.  So social media is great for getting real time feedback on assessments and curriculum which is externally graded, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and my person favorite The International Baccalaureate (IB).

Facebook has groups that are both student and teacher created for various subject areas.  You can search these groups, and join one of the teacher groups for almost instant help with syllabus and resource questions, or you can look in on some of the student groups to see what questions students are asking in the comments sections.

Twitter is really good for this:

If you go to Twitter and type in  #IBproblems, just read what you come up with.  Same with #APproblems.

It’s a collective and unintentional list of things students AND teachers are dealing with, not only in your class, but all around the world.  (If you don’t know how hashtags work…please, like I said, figure out how social media works).

Most of them are tongue-in- cheek comments about the workload, which, while incredibly funny to read, do point at a serious problem that students face: the work to life balance.

Reading these Facebook comments and Tweets can give you authentic glimpses into what our classes students may be too scared to ask about.  Because yes, sometimes we are scary.

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Pretty sure we teachers can relate to this too

 

Sample Snapchat story:

Students were to use the language of the poem “Meeting at Night” to create a Snapchat-style story.  Their captions needed to blend text from the poem, and their hashtags had to connect to the mood/tone of the poem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How We Can Redirect the Language of Victim Blaming in Our Classrooms

During my sixth year as a teacher, I finally got the opportunity to teach the novel, Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.

In case you’ve never read it, it’s a pretty spectacular novel to teach for many reasons:

It allows students to relate to characters and cultures that were otherwise foreign to them,  it allows for exploration of the significance of Western occupations in the Middle East, and it’s all set amidst the backdrop of a universal topic: the quest for redemption.  Oh, and the movie is  awful…so the students never bug you to watch it.

As an English teacher, I totally nerd out when I get to teach it.

However, it was just this year (four years after I started teaching it), that I realized the novel also opens up discussions addressing an unexpected topic… the language of victim blaming.

If you’re not familiar with the novel, the plot is set into motion after one of the characters, Assef, brutally rapes one of the novel’s protagonists, Hassan.

Now, nothing in Kite Runner puts the blame of the assault on Hassan’s shoulders.  Hassan is clearly depicted as the victim and is written about with a great deal of sympathy and compassion throughout the novel.

The victim blaming, weirdly enough, only happened outside the fictional world of the book, when both the students and I would get into discussions about the events of the novel.

It was during one of these discussion that I was reminded of a Ted Talk by Jackson Katz that I watched during the summer:

In the video, Katz explains how even the structure of our language is set up to blame victims.  The video does a great job of explaining this, but to summarize his points, he,in essence, says that we, as a society, tend to frame the discussion about sexual assault and abuse around the victim, rather than the abuser.  And when you make the victim take ownership or agency in their own assault, that…is victim blaming.

Victims don’t act in an assault.  They are acted upon.

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Student work framing the abuse around the victim

So I began noticing this syntactical pattern in the conversations the students were having…someone would refer to “the part where Hassan got raped.”  And another kid would reference an event that happened, “after Hassan was raped.”  And while I was listening to conversation go on, it dawned on me that the way the conversation was framed, around Hassan, sounded so scarily natural.

So, I posed a question:  I asked the students if Hassan, in fact “got raped.”After a quick pause, one kid said, “no…Assef raped him.”

I’m not sure if it resonated with any of the students beyond a superficial level, but for the rest of the unit, anytime Hassan was discussed as the subject of the assault, I would redirect the conversation so the ownership fell on Assef’s shoulders. And from time to time, a student would catch themselves mid-sentence and redirect themselves.

Yay.

Then, a few weeks later, while discussing the play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with another class, the same re-direction on my end happened anytime a student referred to “Blanche’s rape,” as the climax, rather than “Stanley raping Blanche.” Or anytime a student judged Stella for re-entering an abusive relationship, I asked if it was worse to be the one returning to  abuse, or the one creating it.

 
And when another group of students were discussing the play, An Inspector Calls, and mentioned the time, “Eva Smith got pregnant after she was raped,” well… they were re-directed towards making sure the conversation focused on the character of Eric, since he was the one who raped her.

I’m not going to lie…there didn’t seem to be many light bulb moments during these discussions. No kid put their head in their hands and said to themselves: “My God…how could I not have seen this!”

For the most part, I’m sure I just annoyed them.

And yeah, this doesn’t just apply to Literature teachers.  Many educators, at some point, will be able to re-direct the conversations and discussions that happen in our classes whether they are about the topics we teach, students in the school, or current events.  Heck, most of us, myself included, need to re-direct our own unintentional forms of victim blaming when we talk. This applies to all of us.

But as a Literature teacher, I am shocked by how deeply engrained victim blaming is in our language: If you think about it, through books, plays, and stories…sexual assault and abuse is turned into a collective experience for the reader and audience. And yet even when readers are given the context, intentions, and motivations behind an assault, our language and our students’ mostly still defaults to victim blaming.  It’s awful.

And yeah…I know, I know…most of the times in a lot of schools I’ve worked at, the kids don’t even have the books, and if they do, they don’t read them.  And when they do, they hate them, and don’t want to discuss them at all.  I get it.  We, as teachers, already have a laundry list of “big ticket items” to deal with.  So what am I getting at?

What’s my point?

My point isn’t that we should stop reading the ALARMINGLY high number of texts that pivot on sexual assault in our classes.

My point is that we can start using these texts to address the very real problem of the unintentional use of language that blames victims rather than the assailants who victimize them.

My point isn’t that this type of re-direction in our classes is going to change the prevalence of victim blaming in society.  I’m not that much of an optimist.

My point is that if we re-direct these types of conversations enough in the context of our classes, eventually, maybe, one kid out of the thousands we teach in our careers, will re-direct these types of conversations outside of our classes…in like…the real world.  Where it really matters.