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Social media lessons bode well for ELA teachers

Trepidation is waning among secondary and higher education English teachers regarding the use of social media for classroom lessons. Many instructors were stifled due to school policies or they feared usage improprieties. While no social network is 100 percent safe, instances of their use have been successfully tested.

Your students love social networking. Why not incorporate this enthusiasm in classroom lessons?
Your students love social networking. Why not incorporate this enthusiasm in classroom lessons?Microsoft Clipart

From Michigan and throughout the Midwest, the East Coast to West, teachers have discovered social media creative uses benefit students by keeping them attentive. Where applicable, social media lessons can meet Common Core requirements agrees Jacqueline Cherry, high school English teacher, South Lyon Community Schools, South Lyon, Michigan. South Lyon like other Michigan schools is working diligently to incorporate the new standards which must be tracked and documented. So how do English instructors use social media successfully?

Temperance-Bedford High School AP English Literature Instructor and Bedford Literary Guild Advisor, Scott Earl, Monroe, Michigan area uses WordPress to support student fiction writing. In Earl’s case, he found he could meet the Common Core Writing Standards (CCWS) 9-12.3, which covers narrative forms of writing either real or imagined. Additionally, the class would be satisfying CCWS 9-12.4-6 Production and Distribution of Writing.

After his students had been working on their short stories and poems for about a week, he posted each one to WordPress. Scott then made each member of the class a WordPress “user.” A "user" has some commenting privileges but cannot alter the site. Students were allowed to post throughout the entire WordPress site using their user name which did not reveal their identity. However, anonymity is not always enforceable.

Parental approval was not needed for high school students based on the WordPress user agreement. Since the site is on the Internet, the students could share the site with their friends and family. “When I told students we would be using WordPress they were truly motivated to try it out. The more they believed people could see their work, the more motivated they became to create better pieces,” said Scott.

For short fictional stories, Scott required an analysis that included, “Believability/plausibility – does the plot make sense? Even if it is science fiction, does the stuff happening make sense? Does one thing lead to another? Sensory images – does the author take you there? Dialogue – is it realistic? Does it move the story along, or does it get in the way?” The results said Scott, “Most students were highly engaged.” He continued. “Students are well on their way to satisfying narrative writing standards in the Common Core."

Karen Salsbury 7th grade English language arts teacher, North Kansas City School District uses social networks to teach writing via her popular Pinterest site. She also operates a large ELA instructor assistance website dubbed Teacher1Stop.com. In spring 2013, Karen was responsible to test the use of iPad minis in her district.

Based on student WordPress essay postings, reading, and commenting, peers helped one another defend claims and cite sources. For example, one student wrote about the history of horror films and another wrote about Google Fiber, a fiber optic internet service provider that allows for much faster uploading and downloading. This process satisfied CCWS 6-8.1-3 requiring students to develop an unbiased, authoritative, third person voice, avoid slang and provide a concluding statement that follows from and supports the argument presented in their writing.

“Students like using technology and using social media like WordPress is a great way to keep them attentive and on task,” Salsbury said. “Another bonus is parents are easily able to view the site as a way to see what their students are working on as well as monitor their writing progress. Let’s face it, Middle School students aren’t always good at bringing their work home for their parents to read."

Karen said she also uses YouTube to promote critical thinking for other writing assignments. These lessons satisfy CCWS 6-8.3a, b, c, and d as well as 9-12.14. In this case, each student created a slideshow that served to summarize a topic of their choice. Compared to any other distance learning tool such as Edmodo or Blackboard, YouTube’s video library, editing and privacy settings are vast, user friendly, and are accessible from many types of devices. If your school does not currently allow YouTube it may not be aware of some simple firewall coding steps that can allow a more screened version to be enjoyed on its campus.

WordPress and YouTube provide several opportunities for ELA teachers to offer their students rigorous learning opportunities. While some lesson planning and time is needed to bring these projects to fruition, districts that currently do not allow social media in the classroom can see the practice is now more commonplace. Both Earl and Salsbury agreed social media networks can help struggling districts better visualize how to improve student writing while meeting Common Core standards.