This is my third post in a mini-series of posts I am writing on 21st century literacies in the modern high school classroom. My first post explored the idea behind what it means for a student to be literate in today's post-high school environment, focusing on the roles of technology and globalization in current academic and career workplaces. My second post focused on digital writing in particular, discussing the worth and complexity involved in rhetorically sophisticated digital composition as well as how those digital compositions can be used to teach writing in the classroom. For this post, I'd like to lighten up the heavy mental lifting for a bit and discuss some practical and accessible assignment ideas for bringing digital writing into the classroom. I found several of these ideas in Joan Lange, Patrick Connolly, and Devin Lintzenich's article in the English Journal; their article stresses the idea that digital assignments "build essential skills for success in college: developing curious minds and an ability to analyze and synthesize ideas to communicate insights with an audience." Their article focuses exclusively on the use of digital writing in teaching Shakespeare; however, their assignments are relevant for use with most readings!
- Text Message Paraphrases - This assignment asks students to select a portion of a play or dialogue in a novel and paraphrase the conversation into a text message conversation. Emojis and gifs are fair game. The goal is to have students connect with the literary dialogue and make it their own by putting the words into a conversational diction in which they are fluent and comfortable communicating. This activity encourages close, careful reading of a text as well as exploration of tone and emotion behind the words being said. It also makes sometimes removed or complicated texts feel real, personal, and relatable.
- Facebook Profile Page for a Literary Character - In this assignment, the teacher will have created or found a Facebook profile page template. Students have to choose a character and create a profile as if they were that character, selecting which bands they like, their favorite quotes, a profile picture, and their bio. Lange explains that "this exercise challenges students to emulate tone and diction associated with a character." It also pushes students to insightfully analyze an author's characterization in order to make decisions and assumptions as to what that character would like or dislike, who their friends would be, or what they would sound like. Jane Mathison Fife has actually written about how Facebook pages are fairly sophisticated meaning-making devices, making strategic appeals and communicating messages about an individual to a wide audience. She holds that using Facebook as a classroom tool in order to get students thinking critically about the strategic, communicative functions of social media has the potential to connect the study of literature and rhetoric with their daily lives. This assignment asks students to perform a literary analysis of a character within the situational context of a popular and familiar social media site. (The esteemed Megan of Breaking Grad(School) has shared this perfectly suited Facebook profile page template for classroom use with this assignment!)
- Tweet a Summary - Any tweet on Twitter cannot exceed 140 characters. This is a fairly limiting constraint; and yet, Twitter is frequently used to express complex political, philosophical, or social sentiments. In this assignment, students are asked to summarize a recent reading in one paragraph. Once this has been completed, students are asked to review their summary and condense it into a tweet. This tweet would capture the main idea and heart of the reading in 140 characters. This asks students to identify the main message or purpose in a composition and put it into their own words in a conversational genre with which they are very comfortable and familiar.
Lange's article discusses many of these digital writing assignments as helpful pre-writing activities. They encourage students to slow down, search for textual clues and connotations, elaborate on their ideas about a text, and develop complex, textually-supported trains of thought that they can then proceed to use in more traditional writing assignments. When working with students who are not particularly comfortable with the text at hand, assignments like these, which rely heavily on literacies that students are fairly fluent in, can give students the confidence they need to wrestle authentically and connect with a new text. These assignments also build digital and computer literacy, which, for high school students, is an increasingly invaluable skillset. Not to mention, they just look like a ton of fun!