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.
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!
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.
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.