Tag Archives: Social Media

The Essential Work of English Language Arts—and ELA Teachers—in Our Democracy

This post is written by member Dana Maloney. 

“We must awaken in order to continue our efforts to build a just, compassionate, and meaningful democracy.”Maxine Greene

danamaloneyThe longer I have taught English Language Arts (ELA)—28 years now—the more I have come to understand that what we do is not trivial or incidental; it is essential.

We can start with two reasons why our work is so important:

  1. Literature is life. When we read imaginative literature—whether prose, poetry or drama—we explore what it means to be alive and to be human. As one of my students remarked years ago, “Literature humanizes us.” We help students understand themselves, others, and the world. We help students crisscross the globe, step into other people’s shoes to see the world through their eyes, and more. Through all of this, we also help students deepen understandings of themselves and of their lives.
  2. We teach the most essential human skills: how to receive information from others and how to transmit information. This is literacy. Through reading and listening, we receive information; through writing and speaking, we transmit information.

Those reasons are so important in the lives of each of our students. However, they are not the only reasons why I think our work is so essential—and why I would posit that it is perhaps the most essential work within the school.

Here is why our work is absolutely essential: What we do in our classrooms protects and perpetuates democracy. John Dewey taught us this long ago, but we need to remind ourselves of this ultimate purpose and context of education.

In ELA classes, we empower students to use their voices and to be able to use the tools of literacy, including digital tools, to contribute to our democracy and to the world. Democracy is a system of government in which people use their literacy skills in order to run a country “of the people, by the people, for the people,” as President Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address.

The discourse in our democracy today, continuing even after the inauguration of the new president, illustrates the need for strong literacy skills. I believe that the following ideas help us cultivate strong literacy skills in our students:

  • Critical thinking is the essential filter through which we process information so that we do not simply believe everything we read or hear and so that we think before we speak or write. We encourage thinking when we give students hard questions, when we allow students to craft their own questions, and when we allow them to own the answers. We have to encourage students to ask good, open-ended questions—not leading ones. We have to offer students opportunities to exercise high-level critical thinking.
  • We can also ask students to synthesize across texts—including texts that offer different points of view (as many news sources do today). Our curriculum can reach for the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, including synthesis and creation that is informed by the consideration of multiple texts that present opposing information or perspectives.
  • We should not read texts for our students. As teachers, we have to be careful not to own the interpretations of texts. We should not present the text as a mystery for which the teacher has all the answers (e.g., a list of themes and symbols). Instead, we should offer texts to our students and ask students for their engaged readings of them. Of course, we want students to back up their readings with textual evidence and with strong reasoning. Great literature is ambiguous and thus allows for multiple ways of reading. This is one reason why high-merit, classic texts should have a strong place in our classrooms, even as we also embrace student choice in reading selections. Students need to own their questions; we need to create room for students to read texts through their own inquiry lenses.
  • We need to create opportunities for student exchange of readings and ideas via active listening and speaking. We need to require them to listen to each other—and to respond to each other. Discourse is a means through which we strengthen our thinking and our articulation of perspective.

To go one step further, I believe that not only is the discipline of ELA essential to the world today but we ELA teachers are as well.

As ELA teachers, we are in a unique position to help moderate readings of the news and of the world—and we can help cultivate healthy dialogue via spoken and written word. There are many ways in which this might happen, including via school and community events and via social media.

I have started to explore how we can view social media—not just the public forum of Twitter but also the “private” world of Facebook—as a form of digital classroom, with ourselves as moderators of civil discourse or even as discussion leaders (AKA teachers). I believe we can be creative in the ways in which we might do this.

I have been prompted by election and inauguration discourse to attempt to create some impact even in Facebook. This means some risk—moving beyond the easy, friendly discourse that characterized Facebook communication for me before. I am working on a book focused on “reading the text to read the world,” and I have started to transfer some of the content of the book to my Facebook posts.

I will leave off by sharing some of my posts from January 22, 2017. Through these, I also want to share with you some additional thoughts about how we can see the power of our work—and the potential impact all of us can make in our classrooms as well as outside of them:

As a teacher of reading, I would just encourage everyone to read well: Read the whole book, not just one page, and not just the Cliff Notes version. The book here is, of course, the one we are living in today—our world. We have a beautiful democracy which many men and women—including our ancestors—sacrificed their lives to build and to defend. At this moment, many people have their lives on the line for all of us–for our liberty, for justice, for all our rights. Therefore, I encourage everyone to defend our country by seeking the actual truth, not just a limited or false perception of it. Beware of blatant lies. Be aware that lying is an actual strategy, to manipulate people; diversionary tactics are also intentional strategies. Whether you are conservative or liberal, please do not give away our democratic ideals, which include those expressed in the First Amendment—including freedom of the press and the right to peaceful protest. Do not just believe all that you are told—all that you might want to believe. Seek the truth.

In response to this post, I received a comment, which prompted me to write:

Great literature may be fiction, but it is about truth: truth of human experience and more. Moreover, in true literature there are always multiple perspectives offered. Propaganda is one-sided; a true story has many sides, many points of view, and many voices—like democracy. I think we all have to LISTEN to and READ many perspectives to maintain our healthy democracy and to avoid losing it.

After the Facebook friend replied again to me and as we moved closer to agreement, I added:

Another thing I would add is that we have to be careful what we “say” in the social media world—with regard to selecting and sharing information. An English classroom can be a good analogy and training ground for discourse—if we encourage students to speak what they think (after time is given for thoughtful reflection) and if students also respond to each other, to challenge (civilly) each other’s’ statements—and thus to push every person’s separate thinking. We don’t push particular beliefs or interpretations (because literature, like life, is ambiguous), but we encourage thought—not just fast or shallow thought but careful thought that has processed perspectives and that continues to do so. This is also how public schools help nurture democratic citizens who not only tolerate but also embrace diversity of perspectives— not bullying of perspective, not control of truth.

Dana H. Maloney is the chair of the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing Advisory Committee, the 2012 winner of the CEE James Moffett Award, and an Executive Board member of the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English. She teaches English at Tenafly High School in New Jersey. Her Twitter handle is @danahmaloney.

The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting

This post is written by member Bridget Fullerton. 

b_fullerton-photo_webThough we know that our students are always-already writers, asking them to think of themselves as such can seem like a burdensome prospect. When I ask my students on the first day of class how they feel about academic writing, too many of them look forlorn and express frustration, anxiety, boredom, or a lack of connection. When I ask them about their texting practices or the social media they engage in, however, they perk up and the conversation turns giggly. “That’s writing?” they ask. “Isn’t that just talking to our friends?”

Well, yes. It is. But it’s also a significant rhetorical practice. Indeed, I can remember a time in the late 80s and early 90s when “just talking to my friends” involved a decent amount of covert drafting and revision and even a thoughtful consideration of medium and rhetorical audience. Yes, I’m talking about the joy of passing notes. Though not really efficient, note-passing was fun and it was writing. Indeed, I wrote some of my best poetry and song lyrics in the notes I passed to my friends. Being terribly shy as a teenager, I would also venture to guess that my most honest opinions and authentic voice came through in many of those angst-ridden scribblings.

It was also a very physical process, with a clear social purpose and its own unique constraints. A note had to be covertly written, folded just so, and exchanged slyly through trusted channels in order to reach its intended audience at the opportune moment. You couldn’t ask too many other friends to join in the transfer because the risk of public scandal proportionately increased with the amount of hands involved in an exchange. And you would never think to bring adults into the conversation.

Now, I don’t remember any high school teachers confiscating a note I’d written and using it as a teaching moment, but in honor of the National Day on Writing I intend to embrace social media as a similarly significant rhetorical practice worth incorporating in my classroom. For one, I believe social media moves us beyond some of the constraints to which note-passing was subject in interesting ways. It allows students to make their ideas public, for example, even if those ideas are only 140 characters or fewer. And when these ideas are targeted toward a particular topic (e.g., hashtagged), large groups of young people—and adults—can engage in a momentary writing connection that reaches far beyond the walls of a classroom or university and that offers the possibility of new ways of thinking about an issue together.

Social media also allows students to practice a lighter form of writing—a form that perhaps is too often eschewed in order get to the more serious business of academic and college-level writing. This is an important business to be certain, but why can’t students write sometimes just for fun—to giggle, to laugh, to enjoy, or to respond lightly to something and trust that that is writing too? Indeed, taking a few moments in a writing class to play with words might lead students to some deeper insights that intellect alone cannot reach.

On this October 20th, then, I intend to make the #WhyIWrite tweetup a teaching moment and will invite my fellow university writing instructors to do the same. The experience may be fleeting, but I hope together we can enjoy the unbearable lightness of Tweeting and be open to the rhetorical insights it brings us.

Bridget Fullerton (@magistrafull), NCTE member since 2014, is a PhD candidate (A.B.D.) in the Department of English at the University of Rhode Island. She also teaches courses and serves as First-Year Writing Coordinator for the Department of Writing & Rhetoric. Her interests include multimodal composition and ePortfolios, curriculum design and assessment, writing program administration and professional development, and social justice and feminist pedagogy.

Possible Perks of Being a Millennial

This is a guest post written by Alicia Holland. 

Holland Alicia photoWhile my first semester of student teaching was fairly successful, I feel nervous for Round 2 this coming fall. This past spring I was placed at a middle school, and this fall, I’ll be working with high school seniors.

Yes, I’m anxious about making sure they respect me as an authority figure, but more than that, I’m worried that I will not feel like an authority figure myself. I’m twenty-four, just seven years older than they are. I don’t quite feel like a “real adult” yet, and I definitely have some stereotypically millennial vices, especially when it comes to internet usage. I’ve spent more hours than I would care to admit scrolling through my Facebook feed, clicking on loads and loads of links my friends and acquaintances have posted. I’ll get halfway through a personality quiz and then bounce to an article on pop culture, then skip over to a lifestyle website. When nothing there grabs my attention, I check whether my favorite cooking sites have any new recipes, then decide to watch a Ted Talk instead—right after I text a friend and check the latest election polls.

By no means am I opposed to the Internet, but web sessions like that inevitably lead to a case of hamster-brain. If I haven’t had a train of thought that lasted more than two minutes in the past hour, I have nothing to reflect on and no will to concentrate on anything else. Anecdotal evidence tells me this is pretty common behavior among people in my age bracket, and it takes away from both the time we spend working and the time we spend truly enjoying ourselves. For the past year or so, I’ve been mindful of using my Internet time more wisely.

This aspect of my emerging adulthood helped me connect with my eighth-graders last year. One student, for instance, told me she never got enough sleep because she would just keep clicking on video after video. I could honestly say I’d been caught in the same YouTube spiral, and I could credibly make the case that it’s worth it to ban yourself from watching after a certain hour.

Another student expressed mixed feeling about Buzzfeed. I said I agreed that it could be fun, but I also said how much happier I was once I’d installed an extension that kicks me off of clickbait sites after a certain number of minutes. Whether either of those students actually changed any habits after talking to me, I don’t know. But I do think these conversations at least made changing their habits seem like a viable option—and knowing I might possibly have some influence on them doubled my motivation to develop good Internet habits, which in turn made me feel more adult.

In the end, my millennial habits helped me connect with my students, and that connection in turn motivated me to be and to feel more authoritative. I’m still nervous about teaching seniors, but if the smallish age gap between me and my eighth graders spawned this kind of positive cycle, I’m hopeful that the small age gap between me and my twelfth graders will do the same thing.

Then again, what do I know? I’m only twenty-four.

Alicia Holland is studying for a master’s degree in the teaching of English at Teachers College, Columbia University. A native New Yorker, she is a proud alum of the Bronx High School of Science, Binghamton University, and City Year New York.

Professional and Personal Learning Networks

“What’s in a name?” – Romeo and Juliet, IIii  ‘Juliet’ illustration by Philip H. Calderon, Public Domain

You may have heard the abbreviations PLN, PLC and PLE used in teaching conversations, and they may have even been used interchangeably.  To add some confusion to the conversation, PLN can mean a Personal Learning Network or a Professional Learning Network.  What are these networks, communities and environments? Though a number of definitions exist for these uses, let’s look at some ways of defining these concepts.

Derrick Meador offers this definition of a Personal Learning Network

“A personal learning network, also referred to as a PLN, is a powerful professional development tool that allows teachers and administrators to connect with other teachers and administrators across the country. These connections are typically made through social media outlets including Google+, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. A personal learning network allows educators to seek advice, trade best practices, or simply network with other professionals.”

A personal learning network is an informal network in which a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from others. The network may or may not be built around someone’s professional life and could be about their personal interests.

You will find this type of network relates to the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Their ideas involve learners creating their own connections and developing a network that goes beyond the people they interact with on a regular basis and which can include people they have never met personally or will ever meet in person.

The Internet and the rise of social media has created an easier way to have a far reaching network around our desires to learn.

But Brianna Crowley writes that “A ‘professional learning network’ is ultimately a personal learning network. ”

Do you have a personal learning network of online and “real world” people? Do you have a separate professional learning network around your teaching, or are they blended?

Many of us connect to other educators using public blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. The monthly NCTE Twitter chats (#nctechat) are a good example of a part of a professional learning community. We also probably know colleagues that have multiple accounts for social media – one for their personal network, another for their professional network.

A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is a more formal network. Richard DuFour writes that:

The idea of improving schools by developing professional learning communities is currently in vogue. People use this term to describe every imaginable combination of individuals with an interest in education—a grade-level teaching team, a school committee, a high school department, an entire school district, a state department of education, a national professional organization, and so on. In fact, the term has been used so ubiquitously that it is in danger of losing all meaning.

As an NCTE member, you can participate in many online communities as part of our Connected Community. Although anyone can explore some areas of the site, members have full access to the content there. This is a professional community consisting of people who are involved in teaching at all levels and with many of the same concerns and interests.

We can contrast this with the online communities we have in Facebook for NCTE, CCCC and TYCA which are open to anyone interested. Likewise, anyone can follow our many Twitter accounts and participate in conversations.

The News and Information Literacy Professional Learning Community is a group within the Literacy and Learning Exchange that is open to anyone interested in learning more about news, information, media and digital literacy. Teachers, students, researchers and developers are able to collaborate and share ideas.

Power of the PLNIn the “Power of the PLN” NCTE chat held in 2015, co-hosts JoEllen McCarthy and Tony Sinanis, we explored ways to expand your capacity for collaboration and use your PLN as an energizing tool for facilitating and enhancing learning relationships. (These fast-moving chats are also archived.)

Of course, online communities are only a part of this professional learning. Much of what we do in education relies on relationships. The way students learn and our own professional learning relies on our personal and professional relationships. In the classroom, in the hallways and at meetings and over lunch and coffee is at least equally important.

Thinking about “professional development” as more than  an event, an inservice, workshop or conference and as more than the physical “takeaways” of documents that we are given is possibly new to many people.  Expanding PD to include social media and other digital ways to share, collaborate and learn is certainly still relatively new for all of us.  Professional and personal learning networks help support learning communities.

Among the questions considered in that particular #NCTEchat:

  • How does your PLN fuel and energize your learning life?
  • How have your extended your PLN connections beyond social media?
  • How do you show/inspire/demonstrate to your students the importance of developing a PLN?
  • What role does NCTE play in your PLN?

Finally, you might hear the abbreviation PLE used to mean Personal Learning Environments.  Rather than people, a PLE is a system that allows learners to create and manage their own online learning.  According to Alan J. Cann, a PLE system includes “providing support for learners to set their own learning goals, manage their learning, manage both content and process, and communicate with others in the process of learning.”

A PLE is often associated with distance education or formal online learning, and it is likely that you have built your own professional  “environment” using a combination of free, online services and also real world connections to people you work with and  have met online or at conventions and other professional events.

Students’ Use of Social Media for Advocacy

stock-photo-69481675-social-media-iconsSince a majority of our students are engaging with social media outside the classroom, it makes good sense to integrate it into the classroom. Not only can we help students learn digital citizenship with social media and offer a fresh approach to lesson plans, but we can also encourage students to use social media for advocacy. The following resources are examples from ReadWriteThink.org on the use of social media to get the word out or spread a message.

It is important for young people to understand their individual rights and what they, as citizens, can do to protect these rights. In addition, young people need to understand the way in which bias and stereotyping are used by the media to influence popular opinion. In this lesson, students examine propaganda and media bias and explore a variety of banned and challenged books, researching the reasons these books have been censored. Following this research, students choose a side of the censorship issue and support their position through the development of an advertising campaign.

Chances are that most students are all watching and enjoying videos found on the popular website YouTube.com. Take advantage of their interest—and practice important critical thinking and literacy skills—by having them make and edit their own videos that deal with important social, economic, and political topics in this lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org.

In today’s world, displaying information in the form of infographics is a common practice. In this lesson students have the opportunity to create their own infographics to illustrate their own technical writing. After writing step-by-step instructions using topics about which they feel they are experts, students will learn how to create infographics that complement their writing.

Students need to practice all types of writing, and oftentimes argumentative writing is ignored in favor of persuasive writing. In fact, students may not even understand there is a difference between these two types of writing. In this lesson, students examine the differences between argumentative writing and persuasive writing. After choosing topics that interest them, students conduct research which becomes the foundation for their argumentative essays. After completing their essays, students create infographics to represent their research.

In “The Blog of Anne Frank?: Taking on Social Roles through Online Writing” after reading or viewing The Diary of Anne Frank, students will consider how political news spread in the time of World War 2. Then, they investigate how online digital media contributes to the distribution of news in recent events. This background will contribute to their design and development of a blog on the school or local political topic of their choice.

How else can students use social media?