Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tweeting Allende

I've been having a pretty rough couple of weeks, and tonight I don't much feel like reflecting on what went wrong and what I can improve. I'd rather focus on something that I had a lot of fun with today in my advanced Spanish class. We're reading La isla bajo el mar by Isabel Allende, and while the process hasn't been without its struggles, everything seems more attainable when you're working with a motivated, creative and enthusiastic group of students.



The objective was for them to demonstrate comprehension of a section of the book by assuming the identity of one of the characters and "tweeting" their probable thoughts, reactions or comments. We tried to do it in class yesterday with Twitter and their cell phones, but it didn't work, so we did it in the language lab today. (In my school, the foreign language teachers take turns using the language lab during half periods.) My students have been using Edmodo, which is like Facebook for schools, to post responses to the readings, ask and answer questions, and reflect on the novel's themes. Because they are motivated and highly proficient, it's been quite successful in extending the conversation outside of the classroom, and more useful to them--and me--than assigning traditional comprehension questions for homework. So I decided to have them post the "tweets" via Edmodo. They had to follow a format: Character name "Comment" [followed by, optional, @other character or #topic]. This way, we all could tell who was "talking", what they were tweeting, to whom they were tweeting and what topic they were tweeting about. And the tweets had to reflect the plot developments and personalities of the novel's characters in order to successfully demonstrate that they had read and understood the book. (I did prep them for this beforehand by having them work in groups to jigsaw the assigned chapters and determine ahead of time what their assigned characters would say or think when they appeared in certain scenes.)

The students who already use Twitter regularly found this activity pretty fun. Their "tweets" were right on target, communicating with brevity and often wit the essence of a scene, situation or relationship in the novel. They created hashtags in Spanish that reflected both the novel's plot and themes as well as trending topics in pop culture. For example, one student included #SVUV in a tweet, a play on the trend #YOLO (You Only Live Once = Solo Vives Una Vez). The tweets were often hilarious, but I can't reproduce them here because they owe their wittiness to the common understanding that the group has of the novel and the rapport (and inside jokes) that develops in class over the course of eight months. Not all of the students could connect to the activity as well as those who use Twitter already, but I could see from their "chats" on Edmodo that they were negotiating meaning by collaborating to come up with a tweet... all in Spanish... which made my heart melt just a little.

It's classes like this that remind me why #iloveteaching.

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