The Art of the Story

Course 2 Final Project Reflection
Courtesy of 100 Pedals


This quarter, my colleague here at AIS-R and I decided to spice things up a bit in the grade 10 English curriculum. We knew we were going to be covering narrative writing, but wanted to tweak the unit to make it more 21st century-friendly. Et voila! Our grade 10 blogging unit was born. My colleague also graciously allowed us to collaborate with another HS English teacher in Los Angeles, California (who also happens to be my big brother!:) in order to fit the parameters of the Coetail assignment. So far? It’s been a truly rewarding experiment! So great to work with my brother again (we taught together a few years back) and to collaborate with a classroom halfway around the world.

A Focus on Tech Tools

We knew going in to this unit some of the things that we absolutely had to cover, i.e. specific and concise instructions on how to set up the basic tools of the unit: the blog and  the RSS reader. On the advice of our tech guys, we decided to go with Blogger and Feedly, both of which I highly recommend. They are both intuitive and relatively easy to manage. I have to say – that first class where we set-up their blog and Feedly account took a LOT longer than we had planned. It continues to surprise me just how much these kids do not actually feel at ease using technology. This whole concept of students being “digital natives” is often times not the case; I find that many of my students feel just as confused and lost in tech-land as I do!
Courtesy of Genea Bloggers

Cite what?!?!

Another area that we knew we wanted to focus on was the issue of copyright and citing digital sources. Our students are plenty familiar with MLA citations and how to create an accurate Works Cited, but when it comes to citing digital material (mostly photos), they’re lost. This lesson also took quite a bit longer than expected, and in fact is an ongoing battle of constant reminders. Their correctly cited images/videos/photos will be a part of their final product (not due until January), so it continues to be a work-in-progress.

The Final Product 

We’re excited to see how their final product comes out! Check back in January for an update and some examples of student work!


Inspiration, 101

During an after-school help session last week, I decided to do a little research for my upcoming Coetail post on empowering students to use technology to make a positive impact in their world. I wanted to first figure out how and for what purposes are my students predominantly using social media.
Design Razzi

We were having a just-for-fun read-aloud moment on an article titled, “A Teenager’s View on Social Media: Written By An Actual Teen”. The writer basically breaks down (in teenage lingo) what each of the most popular social media sites mean to teens these days. Between the conversations I was having with my students and the snarky factoids written by the “actual teen”, I learned quite a bit.

For example, I had no idea that Facebook is basically “dead” to most teens – a fact stated in the article and promptly confirmed by my little group of 10th graders. I was also informed that Tumblr is, in fact, used by more students than I had suspected and was described by one of the girls as “A great place to share videos with only our friends.” Some of the platforms mentioned by the “actual teen” – YikYak and Medium – not even my students knew about, so I didn’t feel too bad.

The most fascinating part about the afternoon though, was the candid, funny and doggonit, inspirational comments from my very own students. When asked about how they mostly used/accessed their social media accounts, they said simply: “to share cool stuff”. I asked about cyber-bullying, “sexting”, trash-talking, stalking, creeping, lurking, gossiping, etc…I don’t know if they were giving me the “teacher-answer” (it seemed authentic to me), but their answers were endearing and sweet. They said that yes, there is a bit of bullying that happens but, for the most part, their posts were either their own funny or cool photos/vines or “reshares” of some other internet star.

Finally, I got down to what I really wanted to know. I asked them: “Give it to me straight. Are your online experiences mostly positive or negative?” their answers were a resounding “positive”. This gives me hope.

Instead of using online platforms as their own personal spotlights, many kids are using social media to reach out, to form bonds, and to try to find their place in the lives of others. Instead of seeking praise, they are seeking community.”                                                                                      (Yes Magazine)

If there’s one thing that Coetail is teaching me (and there are many things, rest assured), it’s how to feel better connected to my students’ world. I now know 100% more about social media platforms than I did at the start of this semester. Those alone are exceptional statistics! I know, for example, who Alex from Target is and that he is now on tour with a variety of other internet stars. I can also discuss in detail the various subjects of Christian Leave’s Vines and know that several of my students have major crushes on this dude. Those connections – funny and priceless.

But now the talk needs to turn. The conversations need to move beyond the “who’s hot because they do funny stuff” to “who’s hot because they contribute to their community”. So the question remains: how can we empower our students to “use their platforms” to contribute positively to the community, to make an impact?

This past quarter, these same 10th graders (with whom I was engaged in the enlightening discussion) were assigned to write a persuasive speech on any topic as long as they linked it back to our school’s theme for the year: “You, Me, Community.” For inspiration, we showed them this year’s Toastmaster’s International Speech Competition winner – Mohammed Qahtani’s “The Power of Words.

The result? The speeches that they delivered were overwhelmingly positive, hopeful and inspirational. And yes, they were all written and delivered by 15-year-olds. So what’s the next obvious step? Just as Qahtani delivered his powerful message to the world, these same 10th graders get to deliver their speeches for an in-the-works Tedx talk at the end of this school year. When I told them that our Superintendent himself had made this suggestion, they were (in order): stunned, incredulous, nervous, anxious and then…excited. Really excited. Excited to share their positive messages of inspiration with their classmates, school, and global community. Excited to have their voices heard. Excited for an authentic experience. And I have to say – their excitement? It is contagious.



Whose job is it?

Me: “You studied this in your computer class, right?”

Student: “Umm, what computer class?”

Me: “Right…”

It has been my assumption for a while that most of my students either have taken, are in the process of taking or will be taking a computer literacy course. My assumption is, unfortunately, incorrect. Most of my students, actually, have never taken a course dedicated solely to computer literacy. The course is usually offered in some variation as an elective class and unless a student expresses a keen desire to learn “Gaming 101”, chances are they haven’t taken the course. They, like many of the adults in their lives, assume  that “simply because they were born in an age when these technologies were pervasive,” they are somehow savvy to all of the vast and subtle rules of the digital highway.

Bill Fry Mire


This has left me in a conundrum. I’m trying to integrate technology into my English classes, but find that with all of the other requirements of the course, namely the English 10 Common Core Standards, I’m struggling to fit everything in. 

What’s an English Lit teacher to do? I want my students to use technology as a means to furthering their interaction with literature, but I feel like I need to add a few weeks to the school year in order to teach them the skills of digital citizenship. In her book, It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens, Danah Boyd draws emphasis to this very point:

Teens will not become critical contributors to this [Internet] ecosystem simply because they were born in an age when these technologies were pervasive. Whether in school or in informal settings, youth need opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to engage with temporary technology effectively and meaningfully. Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age.”

So, whose job is it to teach our students how to be positive, contributing and critical citizens of the internet? Partly mine and partly that of the rest of the adults in their lives: parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, counselors. But are they getting this digital citizenship training in any other classes or areas of their lives? Honestly, I don’t think so.

I must confess – as the weeks of our blogging unit progress, I do feel a great weight on my shoulders that I think is disproportionate compared to teachers of other core subjects. I’m spending quite a bit of class time discussing various aspects of their online profiles, including videos about being careful about what they post online and those that encourage them to consider their legacy; engaging in lengthy Socratic Seminars on the merits of Snapchat vs. Instagram and the fact that Facebook is now considered by teens to be “dead to us”; and of course, the “Do’s & Don’ts” of blogging.
Commonsense Media

All of this to say that I, as an educator, am feeling slightly overwhelmed with the weight of teaching students to navigate this nebulous and still-new-to-me digital highway. For my part, I am starting to take this monolothic job very seriously and am thankful that my school has recently opened a new position for a high school technology integrator. Hopefully, next year all students will be required to take a course similar to the one Reuben Loewey has designed. Or even better, more teachers will begin to integrate aspects of digital citizenship into their own courses. And as scary as it sounds, just as we are all teachers of writing, I think we have all now become teachers of computer literacy.