Tuesday, September 18, 2012

6 Ways of Increasing Comprehension using Social Media

I'm sitting in my office looking over email and trying to get ready for the day when the door bursts open. In comes a frustrated High School special education teacher 3-5 year away from retirement. Cue cliche:"Kids these days, they just don't care. Whatever I say they could care less", he stammers. Seeing that it clearly does not matter to him that I may be in the middle of doing work, I put on my consultant cap and try to see what it is I may be able to help him with. "Can you clarify?",  I ask. He proceeds to tell me that he has tried everything, but his class just does not get it. "They don't understand the Roman empire or Juliues Cesear, even after watching a movie", he moaned. "I asked them to tell me one thing about the movie, one thing... and you know what they said Ben ?? You know what they said? They said it was about Rome." Success!!! You asked for one detail and they gave it to you, I thought.  He grumbled further, "Its like all they care about is their cell phones and the Internet."

Seeing that this was turning into a negative Nancy soliloquy I tried to think of some positive ways to engage the students with what I knew: they love cell phones and social media. So I told the teacher "Why don't you have them tweet about the movie while they are watching it?" His response ... "What is tweet?" At this point I find it fascinating that you can be a High School teacher and not know what Twitter is. However, being that this teacher is still learning to respond to emails I wasn't necessarily surprised. After explaining that they could formulate short thoughts about the movie, which may help with overall comprehension, he became enthusiastic. We started brainstorming other ideas to facilitate knowledge and understanding through social media.

It can often be tiresome for teachers to find ways to help our low ability/ low achieving students understand abstract or complicated academic material. The key to this is modifying instructional delivery to fit their interest and ability level. Although these strategies may not be specifically appropriate for children that do not have disabilities or learn at an average developmental rate, the possibilities are endless when one begins to look towards social media as a means of promoting comprehension and understanding of instruction.  Here are 6 easy ways to use social media to increasing comprehension.

1.) TWEET: Have students compose a tweet (they don't have to send it) after each paragraph they read or scene of a movie they watch. Encourage the student to use a minimum amount of characters to describe the main idea of what they just read. This will not only help them to take notes, it will also help them organize the information in the concise manner that they are used to when tweeting. Another option is to compose a Twitter handle of a person or concept (e.g. WWII), then compose tweets that would be consistent with that user. For example @JuliusCesear: Just finished conquering France #sotired

2.) #Hashtag: A Hashtag in its broadest sense is a way to order discussions on particular topics. For example: #WWII after any post on a social media site will group all of the comments on the topic of World War II together. Interestingly Generation Y has run with this concept and started using Hashtags as ways to express concepts. A teacher could have students compose 10 different Hashtags around a learning objective. For example the students are learning about Shakespear they could compose #playright, #Romeo&Juliet, #London, #GoldenAge, #QueenElizabeth, ect.

3.) Create a Facebook Profile and Timeline: This is a great way to organize and visually represent a concept or person that a student is learning about. Create a Facebook page for that concept or person. Lets say the student is learning about Winston Churchill. What important events would be on his timeline? Google pictures that you could add that would to reinforce the important aspects of his life or that time of history. What would his status updates read? This idea is similar to tweets in that the student what have to summarize important ideas about the topic in short sentences, reinforcing main ideas in a practical manner. One could even do a Facebook page for abstract ideas like Physics, or Photosynthesis.

4.) Compose a Rap or Viral Video on YouTube- Teenagers love You Tube and viral videos. Have student break into pairs and create a short rap or song about the chapter they a learning about. This can be done over a current song (which is has been done to death with that summer of 2012 song). They can film each other then decide which video is the best. Research even suggest music can help with memory     

5.)Create a playlist on Spotify- I love music and it often helps me focus and understand feelings in a deeper manner. Along with helping us remember things music can serve as a great mnemonic device. A student can name the playlist a certain topic e.g. American Revolution. Then each song in the list can serve as a different device to help them remember a key fact from the lesson. For example They could add Beastie Boys Paul Reverie to the list to help them remember Mr. Reverie's his role in the revolution. Helping the child relate the song to the lesson will increase their ability to retain what they have learned. They can then listen to the playlist while they study.

6.) Create a Meme- Ahh the Meme. If there was anything that so exemplified our teenagers today it is the Meme. Typically a Meme says so much with just so little and their are endless examples of how this can be achieved. By using a Meme generator students can use the main idea of a lesson and turn it into a Meme. For example a recent Meme was created for a US Gymnast that was not impressed with her dismal silver medal in the 2012 London Olympic games. Students could try to re-create this Meme with a current event or literary character in order to encourage understanding of a theme or concept. For example the "I'm not impressed Meme" could be used in the context of Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Or maybe create a meme for Philosoraptor  to help explain Plato. The possibilities are endless.

So next time a frustrated teacher comes barging into your office complaining about how all the Special Education kids want to do is play on their phones, tell him "Great, I have just the trick for that."

*It should be noted that these ideas are heavily modified and may only be applicable for children who do not learn at the same rate or style as their peers.  However, I'm sure that you could get creative and use the same strategies for your AP European history class, the integration just may be more complicated. If your a frustrated Special Education teacher let me know how these work.


  1. This is a great blog. I am running for school board this coming election and I am looking for ways to word what some of my views are based on. Currently the people on the school board have been on there for too many years some for 20+. As a (what I think to be) young person with children that will go through my local school system I think it is time for the schools to start to embrace modern technology and most importantly social media.

    I really like your idea of using the fb timeline to highlight a person in history and I can see how that can used in so many ways.

    As a somewhat new college grad (09) I know that my predecessors were taught using pen, paper and textbooks, but lets face it that is a thing of the past. From my time at a junior college to my time at the university I was able to download almost everything for my classes and was also able to, if not required to complete online assignments. Not to mention the use of FB groups in college for class assignments.

    I think you are right on the money, if the kid wants to play on their phone or would rather check fb during comp lab time, don't deny it, embrace it!

    Looking forward to reading some more of your stuff.

    1. Thanks for your input. I think its inevitable that schools are going to become more technologically focused. Kids are more comfortable with technology and feel more comfortable using it than alot of the veteran teachers. I follow this website its great and has a lot of good suggestions. http://edudemic.com/