So. You’re a new TO, and if you’re anything like me, you are panicking right now as you read this sentence. There is so much to worry about in crafting a teaching persona and managing a class. Will you be the suit wearing, quiz stickler? The yoga-pant-wearing, cross-legged desk sitter? What about when your munchkins start coming in 10 minutes late? And, for god’s sake, what will you do about texting, twitter, insta, facebook, snapchat and the millions of other blinking platforms that serve as a carnival-esque distraction from your teaching curriculum? Don’t worry, baby girl, I got you.
While I can’t tell you what to wear or how loud to talk in front of your class, I can say I’ve had some success with phones in my classroom. I know, I know, there actually is something to be said for the addiction narratives we assign to social media usage, and it is sometimes easier to be the “everyone-put-your-phones-in-this-basket” kind of teacher. But Shhhh. Let me convince you of the cell phone’s virtues in the following quippy listicle:
- Stop iPhone-Forbidden-Fruit Syndrome
This is probably the most obvious and easily-debatable points, but forbidding phones in the classroom does not get rid of the distraction. In my own experience as a student, being told I could not look at my phone only made checking it more tantalizing. Even if I was a good little girl and kept my phone in my bag, I would often find that, as the class topic/discussion became more boring or unappealing, I would daydream of who was messaging me, liking my cat-child instagram pics, or sending me snapchats of their morning wake-up hair.
And that’s the crux of the problem: It’s not an issue of cell-phone usage; it’s an issue of engagement. An uninterested student will find a way to disengage with your class, iPhone or no. One needs no tools to daydream, and, as all teenagers (and biblical characters) know, telling someone “no” is a great way to create temptation. While it’s easy to blame technology for the waxy looks in your students’ eyes, banning phones eliminates so many possibilities of using this tech as a teaching tool while not solving the actual problem.
- Exemplify Context: IRL Self v. Online Self
Yep. I said it. The Writing Program buzzword: context. Social media is a great tool for explaining and teaching the rhetorical concepts of Unit 1. While your youngins might not have much experience writing a personal essay, they tend to have a good amount of exposure to an online presence. In my experience, they come into class with at least some understanding that what they choose to share and how they choose to express themselves changes between social media platforms or between their virtual and physical “selves.” Pointing this out in the classroom setting is a great way to scaffold to related ideas of context and audience.
“The IRL Fetish” in Opening Conversations is obviously a great text to get them thinking and ready to discuss these concepts. This semester, I paired the Jurgenson essay with an activity stolen from Elizabeth M:
As students came into our second class, I told everyone we would be doing a social IRL experiment and to turn their phones and computers’ volume up as loud as possible.
As we started to discuss and debate the Jurgenson text, pings and bips abounded. Each time a phone rang, the responsible student’s face would blush red and often they felt the need to apologize. This is where the questioning and context exploration began. I turned the conversation to why each student felt so embarrassed when their iPhone-bell-tones perforated our discussion, and, after pondering, students replied saying they weren’t used to iPhones being ok in a class.
They were used to being reprimanded when their phones sounded in a classroom, so by being in the context of the classroom and hearing the sound, they expected some sort of trouble like a labrat trained that cheese=electric shock. I then asked if they would have the same reaction to the sound of their iPhone if alone in their dorm room or at a party or on the sidewalk, to which, they all agreed, would probably warrant different responses. The noise had a different meaning in a different space. In a different context!
By having a small physical example of context, they were then more ready to accept that they, in fact, have different ways of being in different situations, that context affects their sense of self and ways of acting. We were able to have a very worthwhile discussion about how our writing changes based upon context, branching to the differences between their online and embodied selves. I ended the class with generative writing comparing their virtual and IRL selves, which I noticed filtered into some of the Unit 1 essays.
- Demonstrate Genre Conventions and Form
My first semester, I tried to teach these concepts through my Unit 4 assignment, in which we together made a class magazine. I brought in different online or physical magazine-type articles and tried to demonstrate how the addition of a picture or different typography affected the reading of the text. However, our final class magazine had only one essay that deviated from a typical essay format, which was slightly disappointing. Looking back, I think I did not incorporate enough exercises that modeled form or genre into my lesson plans, and so, in the final paper, they still did not feel comfortable taking those kinds of risks.
In reworking my lesson plans for this semester, I thought about ways to make the concept of genre and form more reachable and realized that perhaps, here again, they have more experience editing their writing for different social media platforms.
As a way to tap into that experience,I crafted a lesson plan tweak of a Writing Program Database favorite—“Short Long Short.” You can find a description of that activity here. I’ve found that students LOVE this exercise and that it really gets them thinking about revision techniques while giving them the confidence to experiment with descriptive language.
In my class, I brought in my blue typewriter as our object (which they got a kick out of). I had them complete the activity in the normal way described, allowing them to distill their long descriptions into 50 words. After we discussed what exactly they’d done in the revision, I broke the class into smaller groups and asked them to choose one 50 word description and mold it into three separate social media posts, allowing them to choose which platforms to use (i.e. twitter, instagram, etc.)
We then analyzed how the templates of these social media platforms affected the content. We talked through questions like: How did the curation or picture-based quality of instagram change how you wrote the caption? How did your post need to change in particular to fit the more ephemeral medium of snapchat?
It was fairly obvious to most students how their Facebook post would need to change in order to be more appropriate for Twitter, and by teaching these differences as the “genre” of Facebook or the “form” of a tweet, I was able to help my students apply this vocabulary to their writing.