Looking to bridge the gap between my students’
obsession with love of social media and my obsession with appreciation of literature, I built an Instagram Challenge for my Quarter Trio groups last week. (Facebook, my teens tell me, is so five years ago; Instagram and Snapchat are where it’s at, apparently.)
Here’s what the assignment looked like (click on the image to enlarge):
And here are some of the best results (click on the image to enlarge), slightly modified to remove identifying info and to make viewing the work easier (in the original posts, you’d have to scroll down to see the captions on a phone):
This wasn’t a graded assignment for points in my class; it was one of my Quarter Trio challenges which will result in a prize for the winning group at the end of second quarter. You could make this an actual assignment, but you’d want a scoring rubric and an alternative plan for kids who don’t use social media – yes, they do exist. One of my 105 kiddos prefers to stay offline completely, but she was happy to help find the quote and work as a behind-the-lens photographer.
I’d say this assignment is a keeper and I definitely learned a few things:
1. Engagement was even higher than I had expected. I knew they loved Instagram, but I didn’t realize that it’s like life-blood to them.
2. I can trust my students to leave my classroom for a few minutes. The control freak in me was nervous about setting them loose on campus (I gave them only 10 minutes to shoot), but everything was fine. No broken bones or scolding from administration – whew!
3. I learned how to “tag” someone in an Instagram photo. Because I’m over 40, I don’t naturally know these things. A cluster of 14-year-olds also eagerly showed me the app’s Direct Messenger, previously an unearthed feature in my account. (Sorry to the lady who left me a message four months ago. You weren’t intentionally snubbed, I swear.)
4. They LOVE teaching me things. I had originally set up a Google Form for them to submit their posts, but grabbing an Instagram post url from the website (it’s a bit wonky to locate this) and then copying-and-pasting it into my Google Form was cumbersome on their phones. Instead, one student asked if she could just tag me instead. “What’s that?” I asked and a swarm of teenaged honeybees surrounded me, buzzing as they showed me how to tag, share, filter, follow, forward, and maybe even reconfigure satellites. They loved that they were experts in something I didn’t know. Also, the students were right. Tagging was WAY easier for them – and for me when it came time to grade the posts. I just clicked on my “tags” area and my screen filled with their work. It look less than 15 minutes to grade the work of 34 teams. Score!
What I’ll do differently next time:
1. I’ll drop the Google Form completely and just have kids “tag” me as the way of turning in their assignment.
2. To help keep track of the posts I’ve already scored, I’ll “like” the post, showing the teams that I saw their work. After a “like” from me, they can delete the item from their account, if they wish.
3. I’ll use a really unique hashtag. The one I chose was already used by other folks, so there’s a mishmash of images on that feed – nothing inappropriate, but I’d like to have greater control over the images stacked next to my students’ work. The more obscure the hashtag, the better in terms of providing a dedicated gallery space for your classes.
4. The group selfie wasn’t necessary and could be dropped. I wanted this challenge to also be a team builder since the second-quarter trio groups are still warming up to each other. The group selfie requirement was my move to assure that all three of the team members were at the photo site instead of just sending one go-getter out to the do all of the work. As it turns out, they all willingly took care of their business together and I didn’t actually need the selfies – but they sure are cute!
5. Remember that not all kids are artsy. The examples above are the best ones, but quite a few submissions were rather flat/uninspired. For this photo assignment, I could’ve done more to teach a few photo composition tips and model more clearly what I wanted. Next time, I’ll use the images above as examples of strong work. You’re welcome to grab them, too, to share with your students.
6. I should’ve set up a separate school Instagram account. Oops. Now my student Quarter Trio teams are all mixed in with my teacher tribe and friends. Oh well, at least I can fix this when we start the third round of Trios in January.
All in all, I consider this assignment a moderate success because there was a ton of buy-in and enthusiasm from students, but I wasn’t completely satisfied by the level of academic rigor. The pictures are pretty and the kids were digging back into our reading to find rich sentences, but how else could Instagram be used to help students master content? Maybe have ESL learners create visual examples of idioms? Vocabulary flash cards featuring a photo symbol of the word and the definition in the caption? Photo evidence of completion of a library skills scavenger hunt?
Let’s kick this around in the comments section. Ideas?
UPDATE – I also built a video talking a bit about this idea and two other media-related items I use in class:
Teach on, everyone!