The Storify Assignment
With all the potential issues sorted out, I felt we were ready to launch our project. However, I should say something at the outset. Our primary goal was to learn about how authors create and change characters not the language of William Shakespeare. This will surely make some English teachers shudder, but Macbeth would be the conduit for our learning and not the goal itself as our curriculum is “skill based.”
Additionally in an effort to scaffold this complex assignment, we kept the initial requirements quite simple. First, the number of tweets composed was high, seven (one per scene), in comparison to the number of tweets used on the Storify, one. We decided to do this to allow the students time to get comfortable with the requirements of a good tweet (depth, voice, attention to detail, possibly an element of fun) and see those of their peers. We were not worried about the students simply stealing each other’s ideas as the tweet was simply a stepping stone to the analysis. In fact for each of the scenes from Act I, I showed the students my tweet as an example.
Requirements for Act I: Macbeth
This would be an opportunity to practice composing tweets, learn about the characters and get a handle on the plot. Their task was to Storify a response to their best tweet and also the tweet of a peer. These responses were to include:
- The tweet itself
- A note of what point of view the tweet is composed from and who the audience was for the tweet
- A brief summary of the scene (this helps to review the plot)
- A brief analysis of how the tweet reflects some element of that character
Here’s a link to a pdf of the requirements as we gave them to the students: Act I Storify Requirements.
Benefits of using both Twitter and Storify
Already there were several clear benefits from this method. First, I have introduced two new digital resources (Twitter and Storify) to my students. Our students are digital natives much in the way they may they may be English language natives. They know their way around, but they still need a guide more than they will admit.
Second, I have decreased the volume of student work I need to read from over 500 to about 75 for Act 1 alone. Also I intended Act 1 to be a chance for the students to get the hang of the process. Emily and I created a Google Doc that would serve as a checklist for the students and provide me with a way of providing feedback quickly and simply. We use a 30/70 formative/summative grading system. This allows my students to make mistakes on the formative, like their Act I storify, learn from their errors and eliminate them for the final complete project which included all five acts. This is a work in progress, so I am curious to see how this plays out. Here’s a link to the checklist.
The third benefit is that we have shifted the emphasis and work from creating the tweet to digging into it and the character who tweeted it. Sometimes as educators on the technological cutting edge(or at least striving to be) we get stars in our eyes when we see the technology and forget the real goal…furthering the lesson. And the way this activity is structured I almost do not care what the tweet looks like, I am far more interested in the analysis. This is still true if the tweet contains errors or erroneous information. I would find that interesting should the student point this out, even on his/her own tweet, while conducting the analysis because that would show growth and self-awareness.
The fourth and most interesting result of using Storify is that the students’ act-by-act “product” will not just have an audience of one, the teacher, but will be published to the web. A teacher can only motivate and inspire the students so far. The fear of failure, the fear of looking foolish or incorrect can also be a powerful motivator. I do not do this to be cruel or damage my student’s psyche, but rather, to use a blacksmith’s metaphor, to work-harden my students. A blacksmith can take a piece of steel which may be too weak and brittle to be of use in an ax. However, by striking it and working it the structure of the metal changes and becomes stronger. I am making my students more resilient. Additionally they have a product they can share with their peers and parents and say proudly, “I did that.”
The primary goals of this first attempt at Storify is to learn the basics of the interface and to introduce what kind of analysis I expect from the students. Too often in the past I have found that even with very precise guidelines, the students did work which was not what I was expecting. With this first attempt under their belts, I can see what trends and errors are cropping up. Then with this information I can tailor my message to the students to suit the gap between what I am seeing and what I expect.
But then dealing with the unexpected is just part of the job for a teacher…