The Power of Twitter

I’m a big fan of using twitter to enrich my teaching. Over time I’ve built an inspiring PLN of colleagues who are doing amazing things. At times it’s a blog post. At times it’s an article. At times it’s an image. But whenever the time (and that’s part of the beauty of twitter is that I can access it whenever I like) I always leave with something thought provoking, challenging, or reaffirming.

Nothing builds community in the classroom like an ussie.  Trust me.

Nothing builds community in the classroom like an ussie. Trust me.

I’ve made a point of using twitter to publish and celebrate what’s happening in my classroom. I made this decision for a number of reasons. First, by displaying the professional voice I’ve developed online, I am able to connect our conversations about digital citizenship in class with my twitter account and use it as an example of how we can best use this social media tool to help shape our online selves. Second, I hope that by sharing student work with my PLN I will inspire my colleagues to try something we’re doing on for size (because we are doing so many amazing things!). And third, something magical happens when students see their work published and celebrated. They obviously feel good about themselves and that’s part of why I do it. But more than the gold star feeling students begin to shift their understanding, over time, that their learning is only seen by me. Instead they begin to see that their work will be shared with an authentic audience and that, in turn, helps create authentic work and genuine learning opportunities.

Allow me to provide an example.

Throughout the semester my English classes study poetry and creates what we call Guerrilla Poetry. We select a poet that either synthesizes well with our course content or possesses some sort of a resilient quality (see my previous post about building hope and perseverance in my students). We share it aloud and collaboratively analyze the poem for theme, powerful imagery, and other literary devices to help broaden our understanding of the poem’s depth. By not continually asking students to write a composition demonstrating their reading comprehension of poems we are able to narrow our focus on the cognitive skills required to understand and analyze the text. This keeps things fresh and interesting while still preparing them for the provincial exam.

The “guerrilla” part of the work comes next. An artist in the class volunteers to sketch or trace a portrait of our poet of study. We usually complete a larger rendition close to 4 feet by 4 feet using a permanent marker and white poster paper. As the artist is completing this task the rest of the class is pulling out the lines from the poem that best reflect whatever we have been discussing. Whether it be theme, imagery, symbolism, or lines of optimism, students record these words on sticky-notes and post them on the portrait surrounding the poet’s image. We then locate a high traffic area in the school to publish our work and hopefully create a bit of a buzz amongst the student body. Hence Guerrilla Poetry is done!

photo 5

Last week I challenged the class to bring in a poem of their choice that best reflected the resiliency and optimism we have discussed throughout the course. Students shared their selected poems in small groups and then selected one from there to complete their own mini Guerrilla Poetry installment. They then completed their guerrilla poster on smaller paper and posted ii in the halls.

And I of course tweeted out some of them and to my surprise one tweet in particular gained some pretty cool attention.

The tweet that sent us on a pretty awesome journey.

The tweet that sent us on a pretty awesome journey.

Having used Rudyard Kipling’s name as a hashtag we were re-tweeted by the Bateman’s, Kipling’s estate that is maintained by the National Trust of the UK. This organization was founded in 1895 and maintains a long list of historically significant British sites. Have a look at some of what they do below.

And things progressed pretty quickly from there. In a nutshell Bateman’s was open to answering some of our questions about Kipling. Check out the Storify here: Authentic Connections with #RudyardKipling. We spent a morning of collaboratively inquiry, brainstorming queries and preparing a video to send back to the estate. Have a look at what we put together below.

I think there are some pretty amazing benefits that came from this experience. As previously stated, any time students feel celebrated and can see that their learning is important in the world around them (and beyond!) there is tremendous value. But I think something special occurred throughout this process that I hadn’t anticipated. The opportunity to communicate with a primary resource and have a direct and meaningful discussion with someone that wasn’t even on our radar when we began this particular assignment is surreal. The class enjoyed the opportunity and gained a new understanding of how we can gain insight to our interests and passions.

We are currently awaiting a reply from the Bateman’s. I’ll be sure to post it when it arrives.



One thought on “The Power of Twitter

  1. Hi,
    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – It’s turned into one of those weeks! Anyway, I had every intention of replying to you via the Direct Message on Twitter, but there is seemingly a problem with that – I’m afraid I’m not technically minded to sort it out. I would have replied via the normal tweets, but it does upset some of our followers when they get a mountain of stuff from us, so excuse this method, but hope it gets everything over to you safety.
    Anyway, I think I’ve managed to answer all of your questions. All being well I’ll get a video over to you next week when hopefully we get back to some sort of normality after the flooding and snow etc. But to the questions…..

    Thank you all for taking the time out to ask them. Hopefully I’ve covered everything.

    About Kipling:

    Where did he write and what time of day?

    As a rule Kipling wrote in the Mornings. His wife very much ruled the roost and would quite often insist he go upstairs to write. If he had written enough in the mornings, he’d be allowed “out” & would go out to play in the afternoons. In many ways, by the time he arrived at Bateman’s he had regressed as an adult and was quite childlike. He enjoyed children’s company and would spend the afternoon exploring the garden or estate with them. Even when his own children had grown up he “borrowed” others to play with. Unfortunately in today’s society he’d been seen as being a tad odd, but it was all completely innocent. He just enjoyed children’s company, their wild eyed belief, their wonder, their interest and imagination.
    However, before he was allowed to play, he would have to do his degree of work. He would write in the Study here at Bateman’s. Quite often he would lay on the day-bed in a mini-trance like state. He would be almost in a coma while he mulled over his ideas. When he was ready he pounced straight up and would write in a crazed state on any scrap of paper available. He was a messy writer, very generous with the ink and would often appear from his study covered in ink splotches and his hair in a terror, almost like he had been in a fight. The sheer passion to get everything down on paper being so traumatic!
    He would write anywhere, quite often on manuscript paper, quite often in the margins’ of his books. He started doing the later when he found his wife destroying many of his notes. 3 times every day Carrie would arrive in the study, grab any lose bits of paper and the paper bin (which needed emptying 3 times each day anyway) & burn the lot. As a result Kipling used to lose a lot of half completed works. Carrie used to do this because she was worried about half written bits and pieces being sold to the papers or on the black-market. His fame was such that good money was been spent on his autograph and handwritten letters even during his own lifetime. As a result Carrie was keen to protect her husband and his integrity. All letters from Bateman’s were typed (not by Kipling himself as he said the typewriter wouldn’t spell correctly) so people couldn’t make as much money from selling his correspondence.
    When you do see his original manuscripts they are messy and tangled. His desk is covered in ink stains and I can imagine the study was a very chaotic place.

    What were the major inspirations for his work?

    Kiplings work is often split into two periods. His “Indian-Empire” period and then his later “Sussex-English” period. The earlier phase is often the more famous side of him, the work that is inspired by the sub-continent and the early years he spent in India. He started writing when he returned to India as a journalist and you can see the influence in his early works –“The Phantom Rickshaw,” “Wee Willie Winkie,” etc. However, his most famous works, the one that people automatically connect between India and Kipling were often written while living in Vermont. When he married and moved away from his early success and laddish behaviour of London’s west end, his new wife Carrie thought a more quite retired lifestyle might suit him. So it’s a touch of irony that those most famous works – The Indian Empire stories were actually written while living in a very conservative, republican area of Vermont. Very far from his early years in India. But it’s that distance and that longing for India that influences his work more in that period. He can describe the sounds, smells etc. with better clarity, because he’s not surrounded by it. In this phase comes the books “Kim,” “The Man Who Would Be King” & the 2 editions of “The Jungle Book.”
    His second phase starts when he moves back to Britain and to Sussex. Firstly in the village of Rottingdean and then eventually here at Bateman’s where he spent 34 years. He’s become a father and unlike his more strict-dour image, he’s able to scroll back from too much work and instead becomes an early “stay-at-home-dad.” So his children influence his work that much more. He writes the “Just So Stories” for his daughter Josephine. But he’s also influenced by the English & Sussex countryside. He writes poetry like “The Smugglers Song” (My Favourite) based on the smugglers around this part of Sussex and his novels take a child-like and Sussex lean. His two most famous novels in this period are “Puck of Pooks Hill” & the follow up “Rewards & Fairies.” In these novels Puck from “Midsummer Nights Dream” comes back to life and takes these children (possibly Kiplings own) on a time travelling adventure with King Arthur, the Romans and the aforementioned Smugglers all over the Downs of Sussex and this evocative landscape that Kipling had found himself in. We here at Bateman’s are proud to look after Kipling house etc, but also Kiplings country – the landscape that he wanted to protect for generations to come. The best poem that symbolises this period is “The Way Through The Woods,”

    How did his travels inspire his writing?

    Kipling did lots of travelling and when he first found fame and a degree of success in India he looked to travel. He went on a number of world tours and visited many different areas of the globe. Certainly the sub-continent and those early years had an influence on him. But so did his annual trips to South Africa to see Cecil Rhodes etc. and the “heroes of the Empire.” It’s also true that one of his most successful periods was to be found in a very “un-Kipling” landscape – that of Vermont, USA. The Sussex landscape certainly had an impact on him too & so it’s a whole mish-mash of experiences and adventures that inspire his work. Some serious, many frivolous.

    How does growing up in India influence his writing?

    Considering it was a very short period of time that he is in India it is surprising how much of an impact it had on his life. He was brought up though in a very liberal family. His mother and father were keen that he explored the culture of India and not spend his time trapped in governmental compoundS. So it was quite radical for him to have an Indian nanny. In fact it’s said that by the age of 5 he could speak better Hindi then English. They also wanted their boy to go out and see the country, so Kipling’s nanny would very often take him out into the “real-India” and not just the colonial-Raj areas. Kipling later tells a story of one such trip where he goes to a bazaar outside the city walls in Bombay. He gets split from his nanny and being 5 he sits at the market edge waiting to see her. Behind him is the beginning of the jungle, so he decides to have a little explore while he’s waiting. While pushing his way through the undergrowth he comes to a little clearing and within in it a tiger. Now being 5 he’s not frightened, but instead sits down with the tiger and decides to tell this tiger a story. The tiger listens & Kipling later reckons he spends 20 minutes or so “chatting” with this tiger. So you can see how these early experiences would have an impact in later writings.

    Were his writing’s politically motivated?

    As a rule Kipling wasn’t particularly political. He certainly did believe in the Empire, but not in a way that people have since accused him with. He believed it was a great method to help the world, to share ideas and practices. In a way I think he would have been just as happy with the modern Commonwealth or even the way that the UN works. However, certain phrases that he used have occasionally been repeated to prove an argument that I don’t believe Kipling would have believed in. The most famous of these phrases was the “White Mans Burden.” He did believe that the Empire was a way to “spread the word” and for people to be “civilised” however, Kipling also believed in self-democracy and freedom. Kipling was suggesting that the Indians could govern themselves long before Ghandi. However, it’s because Kipling represents that period of the Raj and the Empire at its height that people have tarred him with the same brush. The irony being that Kipling was quite liberal for the time and in many way quite a modern man rather than the Edwardian soul that we perceive.
    Kipling was also very keen on the First World War, but then who wasn’t? The British population were darn keen to get involved and put the Germans back in their place. Kipling often said as much. What people don’t always quote is the words that Kipling said in 1915/16/17/etc. When the war changed from being a game and the casualties started totalling up. Kipling’s opinion’s changed and evolved. His words were as powerful post-war as they were pre-war, and again he caught the mood of the times. However, history hasn’t always been kind to Kipling and in many ways its selective “picking” of his opinions and ideas that have given him this reputation. Like any man his opinions evolve through his life and Kipling was no different – he was just lucky/unlucky for people to listen and remember some of his words.
    His cousin was the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, & even while PM, Baldwin would visit Kipling and Bateman’s on a regular basis. But Kipling refused to get dragged into his cousin’s manifesto or having a public opinion of Stanley, as he know his “celebrity” might be unwittingly used. That’s not to say that they undoubtedly did not have some very robust discussions over a glass of port here at Bateman’s but away from the public glare. Baldwin sort Kiplings opinion on a number of matters. As did King George V WHO ASKED Kipling to write the very first ever Royal Christmas Speech.

    About his Son:

    How much did his son’s death inspire the poem “If”

    Although often quoted to be about his son John, the poem “If” was never written for him. I suspect that there certainly were feelings towards John regarding it, but Kipling always claimed no. Instead it was written from his perspective as the “boy,” when he met one of his boy-hood heroes Dr Jameson (an Empire builder in SA.) He imagined what Jameson would say to him & so that is the way that Kipling wrote the poem. Taking all the good elements of his hero and suggesting that he would be given him advice. That said, John was consciously or sub-consciously in Kiplings thoughts.
    The other poem that is often linked to John is that of the poem “My Boy Jack” The poem is about a son lost during the First World War. Again there are suggestions that it is about John, but Kipling always insisted it was about Jack Cornwall, the youngest boy” to lose his life during the conflict and a representative of everyone who had lost someone. But again it’d be silly to not suggest that John was not in there somewhere.

    Did the death of his son provoke a catharsis of sorts to his views whilst writing?

    Kipling’s views changed through the war, his opinions often reflected the views of the public. It’s why his poems/writings were so well accepted because people were often thinking the same but Kipling was able to put them into words. He was offered the role of Poet Laureate 3 times but said he didn’t need the pressure. Ironically he was reflecting the voices of the people much more so then that of the official laureates.
    His work did change after John’s death, but at the same time he didn’t need to write, he’d made such a fortune he could semi-retire. So instead he would concentrate on other projects, projects that he could use his “celebrity” status or fame to help. So he helped set up the Imperial War Graves Commission and help choose all the verses we often use on 11th November. He helped set up those impressive cemeteries in Belgium and France and those white headstones, but also helped communities set up funds to organise little local village/town memorials for all those who couldn’t make it to the big cemeteries. He helped set up the Poppy association and championed solder relief and charities. Not the top brass, but the “Tommy Atkins” of the privates etc. who did the work & didn’t get the credit. He tried to repay his debts to John. He said in later life that his greatest legacy was being able to write the official history of the “Irish Guards” – John’s regiment.
    Regarding his writing though, the bigger impact came with the death of his first child Josephine. When she died aged 6 it really took it out of Rudyard. He had just finished the “Just So Stories” and that innocence was never fully recovered. That had the bigger impact on the family, more so then Johns. Despite the tragedy of them both dying.

    The Estate:

    Wondering what are the biggest challenges in upkeeping the estate?

    Bateman’s has 100,000 visitors a year. Many interested in Kipling and his story, but also many just on a day out and a break from the real world. However, the property was never designed to be a tourist spot & the house was certainly never designed to having that many people traipsing through. Yes we are very excited to show the property off and hopefully inspire people. But there are times when you wish to keep it still, to wrap it up in cotton wall and to protect it.
    Logistically the biggest issues are the utilities. A place like this was designed for a family of 4/5 with a dozen or so servants and gardeners & not 100,000. As a result it’s the sewage system, the water pipes etc. that are a big challenge, trying to make them stretch to meet all the demands. More modern type systems such as electricity and phone lines are still basic here on site. In fact the new broadband caballing is using the same electrical duct work that Kipling laid in 1910, so it sometimes can be very challenging just keeping the property working.
    My job is that of contrasts, there are times when I can be dealing with a 16th century tapestry that as as fine and delicate as you can imagine & there are other times when I am down the sewage pit – unblocking. You get to see some wonderful things, handle some beautiful items and objects with history. But at other times the place feels just like an office like anywhere else. It is a place of contrasts.

    Are there any secret passageways or rooms on the estate?

    The house is very modest in size really; it’s not a grand Pride & Prejudice/Downtown Abbey type place. My previous property had an abundance of secret spots etc., but this place is pretty straight. When the Kiplings bought the house, the house was already 250+ years old, but they like it because it hadn’t been updated and modernised. The Jacobean interiors were still intact, but it meant there were no strange Victorian bodge-jobs! & as such no hidden panels or secret doors.
    Most of the house people can see, but a few of the bedroom on the 2nd floor were taken out to provide us with offices and I am currently writing this from a particularly chilly scullery. The only other space that visitors can’t visit is the top floor which is my flat. I live in the rooms that were some of the servant’s quarters and my bedroom used to be the space which had Kiplings Billiards table in. Bar that, we don’t really have anything out the ordinary?

    Are there really ghosts in the house?

    No ghosts at Bateman’s I’m afraid. When Kipling moved here he said the house had the right Feng-shi & “didn’t have a bad bone in her body.” So they believed it was a very positive house. The only tale that springs up occasionally is about Carrie. Kipling’s wife was very much the “trousers” in the relationship and would rule the staff with an iron fist as it were. She run the estate, the farms, the house and all of Kiplings financial dealings. She was in charge & you learnt not to cross her. Anyway, Carrie left strict instructions of where her ashes should be scattered when she died. She wanted them in the rose garden that Rudyard had built for her with the money he got with the Nobel Prize for literature. She also wanted them to be scattered within 4 days of her death. Very strict were her instructions. When her ashes did return to Bateman’s it was during a very harsh winter and a heavy blanket of snow lay on the ground for weeks. However, following her wishes the ashes were scattered within 4 days of her death. However, because of the ice and snow, the ashes lay on top of the snow, trapped in ice for a couple of weeks. They just sat on top of the ice and didn’t dissipate…… So it is said that when we have a cold patch, an icy spell – it is said that Carrie haunts the rose garden muttering about the incompetence of her staff.
    But it’s just a story! I’ve certainly never seen anything, the only thing your find rattling around here at night is me and one of my legendary parties…… but that another story for another day!

    I hope that sort of answered some of your queries, I’ll try and get a video over of the study in the next few days,
    All the best and thanks for your interest in Rud and Bateman’s,
    Gary – House Manager, Bateman’s

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