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.  

You, Me, & Copyright

One of the reasons I’m loving Coetail is that everything that I learn and blog about for the course, I’m bringing back to my students and sharing with them. This week’s readings were of particular interest to me as I continue to hash out my blogging unit with my 10th graders. So far, we’ve watched a rap video, shared with me by my amazing coworker Lindsay, titled “Oversharing: Think Before You Post”. The students loved it (thought it was hilarious & corny) and it taught them a few valuable tips, namely that being a member of the online community brings with it a variety of responsibilities.

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We’ve also started to explore what it means to cite our digital sources, and they are slowly (and a bit begrudgingly, I must admit) learning to give credit for all externally sourced multimedia that they include in their posts. I’ve shared the information from Jeff Utecht’s instructional Vimeo on embedding images with my students, so now they know to go to Compfight to get all of their images.

In the upcoming weeks, we’re going to look more closely at issues of copyright and what it means to “consume media critically and, ideally, to produce it” as Greg Toppo mentioned in his USA Today article on digital literacy. I love the idea of encouraging our students to move beyond “hanging out” online and getting to the “geeking out” stage of participation.

As for the conversation on copyright laws and regulations…Living in Saudi Arabia, our access to the internet is already limited – the government bans quite a large amount – and students often complain that the only way to access certain content is through illegal means. We’ll start the conversation by watching another Common Sense video about Copyright and Fair Use and discuss how we can find ways that are ethical and legal to access content within the confines of our host country. We’ll also have a Skype session with my sister-in-law who happens to work for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Piracy Department. She’s all over those Copyright issues! Stay tuned for a report on that conversation!

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Private Eyes…


I cannot deny it. “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates is one of my all-time favorite songs. The tune is itself is catchy enough, but the lyrics…well, they’re practically prophetic. “Private eyes. They’re watching you. They see your every move.” Daryl Hall and John Oates may have been referring to a love affair, but in this day and age, “Private Eyes” could very well be the theme song for an Edward Snowden documentary.

But is the title true? Is the “private eye” of the internet watching us at all hours of the day, recording our every thought, word and deed?

Some would say yes, most certainly. In Daniel Newman’s article in Forbes magazine, he posits the idea that internet privacy is a thing of the past, a luxury that the general public has relinquished for the privilege of “free” social media, saying “Our Privacy Died When We Grew Obsessed With Free.”

It is true that we really have no idea how much of our own “stuff” is out there, floating around in cyberspace, just waiting to be discovered. In an article published in The Guardian, Ben Goldacre begins with the reminder that “iCloud and Google+ have your intimate photos; Transport for London knows where your travelcard has been; Yahoo holds every email you’ve ever written.” This reminded me of an “incident” from my first few months teaching at AIS-R.

When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away”

I was on my weekly lunch duty in the cafeteria when a student came to me, clearly distraught. “Miss,” she began, “I wanted to tell you that some 10th grade boys are looking at photos of you online…you’re at the beach or something, wearing a bikini.” Wham. Sucker punch to the stomach. Here I am, first year at a new school, trying to establish my reputation as a serious IB teacher…not to mention the fact that we’re living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative countries in the world.

I panicked. Ran to my husband’s classroom where we googled both of our names. And of course, there they were. Photos of us on our honeymoon in Buzios, Brazil – big smiles, both swimming suit-clad. My heart sunk. How could this have happened and why did it have to be my students to make this discovery?!

The answer: a few years back, we decided to document our new lives as overseas teachers and create a blog, supposedly viewable by only invited friends and family. As it turned out, my husband had missed one small step in the privacy set-up, thus explaining how my 10th grade students had access. One easy click of a button solved the problem, but the damage was done. Or at least, our internet innocence was shattered.

This week, I’ll share this story (or parts of it) with my 10th graders as we continue the conversation about our digital footprints. And while we’re at it, maybe I’ll have them double-check their privacy settings.

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Digital Stock

When I first heard the term “digital footprint”, my brain immediately went to the dark side. Internet predators, google location settings, controversial comments, risque photos, embarrassing family collages, moments from my 20’s that should be lost and forever forgotten…you get the idea. In reading through this week’s articles, though, I have a new understanding of the importance of creating, maintaining and preserving that very footprint. I see it now as a powerful tool that we can use to propel us into the limelight, rather than, as what I had previously thought, a tool to seal our infamy.

Just for fun, I googled my name. I’ve done this in the past, but this time, to my delight and surprise, a whole new list of items came up. (My Coetail blog, incidentally, was at the top of the list.) Just in the past two months, my digital footprint has gone up in stock. Now, if a potential employer googled me, they would find that I have built a professional name for myself. And all this in only 6 weeks!

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This week, I begin the blogging unit for my 10th graders. Our focus is on narrative writing, and we’re going to use blogging as a means to tell our stories. The unit is planned already, but after watching Daniel Pink’s video “Two Questions”, I’ve decided I have some tweaking to do.

In Lisa Nielson’s,Teaching Kids to Manage their Digital Footprint, she suggests starting off the lesson by posing students three questions: “Who are you? What do you stand for? What are your passions and beliefs?” I love this idea and have already added it to my lesson plan. The questions not only lend themselves to the idea of creating an online profile that is meaningful and representative, but they also happen to fit perfectly with the narrative lens of our unit. Nielson goes on to write that the key idea we want our students to take away is that our digital footprints should be 100% reflective of who we are, what we believe and what we are passionate about. AND, the caveat – that this profile that we create is everlasting. No erasing, no rewinding, so no regrets.

My hope is that, through this unit, I will be able to foster a culture of responsible, proactive and thoughtful internet use and that my students will view the internet as more than just a means to endless (and often mindless) entertainment. They will also, more importantly, begin to see the potential that their own digital footprint can bring. As William Ferriter mentioned in his article,

students who see social media spaces as forums for learning begin to paint complex digital portraits of themselves by networking with like-minded peers, joining groups committed to studying topics of deep personal interest to them, and creating products that are an accurate expression of who they are and what they believe in.”

It is Ferriter’s last sentiment, that students create who they are and what they believe, that resonates with me the most. This is the idea that I will do my best to convey to my classes on Sunday morning.

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