Tag Archives: Social Media

Teaching Social Media Ethics Using Visual Rhetoric

This post is written by member Anne Mooney.

Walking down the halls, sitting in my room before the bell, and speaking with students at my school, I’m struck not only by how much my students are using Instagram and Snapchat, but also by how integral they have become in their lives. As these image-based apps increase in social and cultural importance, it’s imperative that we teach our students how to responsibly and ethically engage with them. When trying to teach something more abstract like ethics, it can be helpful to approach it through a more concrete route. Teaching visual rhetoric, we enable our students to read these image-based posts, allowing them to more effectively assess the ethicality of certain posts.

Visual rhetoric provides students with a concrete way to read image-based posts, both others’ and their own, enabling them to more clearly see the potential repercussions of their social media usage. Examining the rhetorical decisions in Instagram and Snapchat posts, students can make more educated decisions about what they should and shouldn’t post online in order to be ethical and responsible members of our online community.

Teaching Visual Rhetoric

Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers define visual rhetoric as the relationship between images and persuasion. Breaking that down for my students, I define visual rhetoric as the study of images and their ability to communicate a specific purpose to a specific audience. Visual rhetoric asks students to analyze components of the image-based post including author, subject, audience, purpose, and context. By assessing these components, students clearly understand how to read an image as well as the rhetorical situation of the post. Additionally, teachers should urge students to examine these components in relation to the caption, determining how the caption potentially alters the reading of the image.

How Does Visual Rhetoric Teach Ethics of Image-Based Social Media?

Once students are effectively able to read the image-based post as a whole, they will be better equipped to analyze the ethics of the post. Exploring the same components of the post, students can be guided to take their analysis further with the following questions:

  1. Who is the creator?
    • In what way does the author insert their self and their identity into this post and how does that impact the audience’s experience?
  2. Who is the subject (if there is one)?
    • If there is someone in the image, what is their relationship to the author? Do they seem aware that their image is being taken or that it was posted online?
  3. Who is the audience?
    • Who is the author posting for? Is the image only available to a specific audience or is it public? Do they use any specific hashtags? If so, what kind of expectations would this audience have? How has the audience responded to the post?
  4. What is the purpose?
    • Could this post be considered negative towards a particular person or group of people? Does it aim to hurt, undermine, or attack anyone or any group?
  5. What is the context?
    • Is there any backstory, drama, or underlying issues involved?

By providing these questions, we encourage a more thorough rhetorical analysis, thereby enabling students to authentically and effectively assess the impact on the digital community.

Teaching visual rhetoric provides students with the skills necessary to critically engage with our increasingly visual world. With these skills, students will be better equipped to determine the ethicality of both their own and their peers’ image-based social media posts; they will be able to more clearly understand the effects of their online actions. Teaching these skills may not be easy, and, at times, it may seem as though it’s outside our scope as teachers, but if we fail to teach our students digital citizenship, we risk them never understanding the power of their compositions through these apps.

 Anne Mooney teaches eleventh- and twelfth-grade English at Malden High School in Malden, MA. Her academic interests of digital literacies and trauma theory have inspired both her classroom and her scholarship. Follow her on Twitter at @ammoons or on her blog, www.habitsofela.wordpress.com


For more information, please read A Pedagogy of Rhetorical Looking: Atrocity Images at the Intersection of Vision and Violence  by Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Scott Gage, and Katherine Bridgman.

Writing Language and Culture

This is a guest post by Ellen Shubich. 

Language changes, as do the “rules” related to its usage.

My sixteen-year-old granddaughter drew my attention to this when she enlightened me about the unspoken rules widely adhered to by teens that apply to the social network she uses.

The directives of social networks have developed over time. For example, I found that My Space, an early network, had very strict indications. According to Clare Stephens,
“You had to put your very best friend in your Top Eight, or you might
as well have told the whole school they were a loser.” “You HAD to
reply ‘thnx 4 that add:)’ when someone added you, and you HAD to
reply to their comments on your page.”

Stephens adds that more recent networks, like Instagram and Snapchat, have their own rules. Instagram users want to have more followers than they follow. They know that to get the most likes, prime posting time is between 5 and 7 p.m.

Snapchatters often take as many selfies as possible, the uglier and weirder the better, rather than the posed snaps that are more customary on Instagram. Teens know to avoid overposting and to maintain streaks, especially long ones. They avoid posting the same content on Instagram, Snapchat, and private messages.

These emerging network directives reflect the social and emotional demands placed on teenagers. Peer pressures, the desire to belong and to be in fashion, and the extensive use of slang are characteristic of this stage of life. Teachers are aware of how these pressures affect class participation, relationships, and work. And as teachers of language, we often draw students’ attention to the types of language used in the different social networks, but I am not sure if we focus sufficiently on the languages’ social and emotional components.

A case in point: As the networks’ rules developed, the language(s) underwent transformations. New words such as Facebook’s unfriend appeared; trolls departed fairytales to do damage in new, more personal venues; emoticons imaged feelings.

Of itself, this is nothing new. Language has always undergone change. Authors from Dickens to Dr. Seuss invented new words we use every day. New words are continually added to the dictionary. James Joyce changed the language by avoiding punctuation, and rap changed the rhythm of language.

No matter what grade or subject we teach, it is essential for students to understand that language is a living entity and the changes it undergoes affect the way we think, feel, and act. The language we use and the accompanying explicit and implicit rules influence social and emotional development. The relationship of language to bullying is a prime example. To be “unfriended” or trolled may be a truly disturbing experience.

It is essential for teachers to introduce this conversation. As we teach language, we are also responsible for the healthy growth of our children. Guiding them toward a deeper understanding of the implications of language is an important step toward that goal.

[1] Stephens, Clare. “There’s an unspoken set of ‘rules’ teenagers religiously follow on Instagram.” MamaMia. N.p., 10 Jan. 2017. Web.

[2] Choi, Mary H. K. “12 Rules for Winning at Snapchat Like a Boss—A Teen Boss.” Wired. N.p., 25 Aug. 2016. Web.

[3] Dickson, Paul. “How authors from Dickens to Dr. Seuss invented the words we use every day.” The Guardian. N.p., 17 June 2014. Web.

 Ellen Shubich was born and raised in the Bronx and moved to Mexico 48 years ago when she married. She has a B.S.N. degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital and a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from the Universidad La Salle. Ellen has held many different positions: nurse, gerontologist, teacher of nursing, English teacher, coordinator, principal (Elementary and Middle School), and English principal. She is married, has a son and daughter and three grandchildren. 

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.