Embracing Instagram in the Classroom


In the constant effort to keep my classroom and technology use relevant to my classes, I created an Instagram account for my class: @MBMSEnglish. The challenge is to use it in a way that students who don’t yet have Instagram accounts aren’t penalized or don’t feel left out in its use.

I’m using it for my “Wall of Shame”. I am posting examples of incorrect grammar that have been published somewhere. Many of these errors are pictures I take of signs outside stores, on menus or menu boards, on signs posted about parking or sales.

Students who follow me are offered extra credit– the first student who corrects the error gets one point of extra credit. Students can also post their own “shameful” writing examples and tag me for one point of extra credit, and the first person who corrects that gets a point of extra credit.

Grading– I note the point winner in a comment on Instagram so I can remember who I’ve already graded, and then I record them on a paper student list using tally marks. I add them to the gradebook once per grading period.


Middle School Digital Portfolios


Last year I experimented with digital portfolios in my Journalism class. Third trimester, students were asked to create a website that demonstrated their growth as a writer and journalist throughout the year in Journalism class. The directions for the Journalism portfolio are here:


We used weebly because it is free and very user friendly and works fairly well on the ipad, though students preferred to use the desktop. It’s not perfect. It frequently asks students to switch to a pay website, and that was an issue. This year I am toying with using google sites on recommendation from Creighton.

Some benefits:

  • Students are creating their own site, which is “transformation” on the scale of digital literacy.
  • You can organize it however you want, or allow students to organize their writing. This is a good opportunity for differentiation for higher level kids– offer optional structure guidelines or ideas for those who need more structure.
  • Students can have “free” pages for student creativity.
  • Students can find and post work from previous years and other classes.
  • Websites can be made invitation only, available only with the direct link, or public.
  • Students can include text, pictures, and potentially video.
  • Students can show growth by showing a first draft, either a digital draft or a snapshot of a handwritten one, and then a final draft.
  • Students can share their portfolios with other students for feedback or ideas.


  • I sent students to the “directions” website, had them read the directions and click through it individually/with whoever they were sitting with, and then answered questions. That was the only class time I spent on it– granted, it’s Journalism, so they are higher level kids, and it was the 3rd trimester.
  • The first day or two of work could be done in class together to deal with issues and problems. After that, posting work to the site can be independent homework, allowing students to use the library or a home computer.
  • The portfolio assignment, made on a website as an example, seemed to be really helpful to the kids– especially those who didn’t know where to begin or how it would look.
  • Students were able to do any page they wanted to first; it’s not a linear project. I think the Writing Autobiography was best done at the end of the year and upon reflection of all the other pages.
  • If kids post their portfolio link on edmodo, it’s a private link, and other students can access them for ideas and feedback.


  • On my portfolios, the only work that needed to be graded was the growth reflections on each piece. I was only reading about a paragraph of new information. I did not read all of the pages. I also only had one class to go through. I skimmed, but I looked at each page for each student and loved their “other writings” page and learned a lot about them from their optional additional pages. I graded only on completion and following directions. I did not have a rubric, though I plan to this year.
  • At the conference presentation I went to at CUE, the presenter discussed a peer rubric and feedback process. Each student was required to read two other students’ portfolios at various points throughout the duration of the (college) course and offer feedback to help make the portfolio better. At each review point, students were encouraged to do different students each time. The peer editor was given points for reviewing, which ultimately made their own pages better. His actual portfolio was graded only on completion and following directions; however, the peer editors followed a rubric and made comments on each page and reflection, design and content, so each page was explored carefully (and, I assume, revised and edited based on the feedback).

Some Portfolios from Last Year:





http://portfolioforrussell.weebly.com/skills.html  a good example of a less good portfolio

Using Goodreads for Independent Reading


I’ve been trying to figure out how to use Goodreads in the classroom to monitor independent reading for the past three years. As time has gone by I’ve discovered that fewer and fewer parents are paying attention to students’ independent reading, and parent signatures have become a less than effective way to monitor student reading. This led me to my current theory that students will be more accountable for their reading when it exists somewhere in cyberspace, and somewhere that a teacher can actually monitor and that their friends can see as well. Thus my quest for how to use Goodreads as a weekly/monthly reading log.

Independent Reading Requirements

My students are required to read a minimum of 75 pages of Independent Reading per week. I played with a number of minutes per day, which would require them to log daily, which is to me an unnatural reading habit, and a number of pages per trimester, which doesn’t create daily reading habits. I finally settled on a weekly goal, and while I have set my goal lower than I would like, it still elicited groans from some of my students and yet is doable in the day and age of all-kids-are-busy-all-of-the-time. I figured this is about 75 minutes of reading per week, 300 pages per month, and 900 pages per trimester.

Setting Up Goodreads

I set a day aside and had students create Goodreads accounts. We had a nice and brief discussion about genres as they indicated their genres, and I encouraged all students to select “Children’s” so that they could populate their shelves quickly and with their favorites. The kids loved shouting the names of the kid books they read and talking among themselves about their favorites. They were all also required to select “Young Adult” and find the summer reading books they had read. Many of the girls selected “Chick Lit” and quickly learned that the shelf wasn’t for 13 year old chicks.  I roamed around the room while they began populating their “read” and “want to read” shelves and I was able to see which kids were into Anime and Manga, which kids read comic books, and which kids were already reading more “adult” literature like Stephen King or from Oprah’s book club.  After creating these shelves, students friended me.

Weekly Check-Ins

Every Friday I have students go into Goodreads and create a “status update.” They include the page they are on in the book and 2-3 sentences that can be summary, connections, response, analysis, predictions, or questions– all reading habits we are trying to instill in students. Varying page numbers is an issue. Some kids are able to find their edition of the book on the book page, but many are reading it digitally and have varying font sizes. I have students indicate the page numbers in their status rather than in the small page number window, resulting in “18% of 1786 pages” or even “I’m on page 10,132 of 17,933” as the first sentence of their status update.

Students write their 2-3 sentences (editing for good writing conventions) and click Save Progress. If a student has finished a book and started another, he or she creates a status update for the completed book, clicks I’m Finished, and then adds the new book to the Currently Reading bookshelf. The status update for the new book is optional.

We did this together every Friday for the first month of school. Each week the time needed has been less, and this has given me the opportunity to check in with every student. My settings are set to receive weekly updates from Goodreads, and I’m just checking off each student as I see the update is completed. I have class time to touch base with kids who are having trouble.


I am grading each status update for 5 points– 2 points for the pages (I’m guestimating here because of the page variations) and 3 points for the writing/content. My mantra is that students should be writing well and using specific details all of the time.  Sheesh, it’s only 2-3 sentences.

After four weeks of weekly checks, I’m going monthly. After clicking around I found that I can see all of my previous status updates. I will have students find this page on the last Friday of the month, screenshot it with their iPads, and submit it to ebackpack. I will grade the monthly record for 5 points per Friday entry.

Finding “all of XXX’s status updates”:  this process is cumbersome, and I anticipate having to walk students through it every month.

1) Log in and create the Friday update.

2) Click on the title of any book on the Currently Reading bookshelf.

3) Click the timestamp under the most recent status update. This takes you to a page with all updates for that particular book.

4) Click the link to “all of XXXX’s status updates” in the top right corner. This will list all updates from every book. I think this list will become very long as the year progresses, so students will have to make sure to capture the correct updates each month. However, each update is dated and timestamped, so it will be clear if updates were done when expected.

4) Screenshot the correct updates and submit to ebackpack.

The submission to ebackpack will also let me annotate on the student submission, giving me the opportunity to let kids know what they are missing in their updates so that they can improve as the year progresses.

The 21st-Century Digital Learner | Edutopia


The 21st-Century Digital Learner | Edutopia.

The 21st-Century Digital Learner

How tech-obsessed iKids would improve our schools.

Young Minds, Fast Times

Credit: David Julian

I give presentations to educators at every level, all around the world. All of the teachers are earnestly trying to adapt their educational system to the twenty-first century. During my talks, however, I typically look out at oceans of white hair. Never — I can’t even say rarely — is a kid in sight or invited to the party.

It is a measure of the malaise of our educational system that these old folk — smart and experienced as they may be — think they can, by themselves and without the input of the people they’re trying to teach, design the future of education.

One of the strangest things in this age of young people’s empowerment is how little input our students have into their own education and its future. Kids who out of school control large sums of money and have huge choices on how they spend it have almost no choices at all about how they are educated — they are, for the most part, just herded into classrooms and told what to do and when to do it. Unlike in the corporate world, where businesses spend tens of millions researching what their consumers really want, when it comes to how we structure and organize our kids’ education, we generally don’t make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught.

This is unacceptable and untenable. It’s also dangerous. We treat our students the way we treated women before suffrage — their opinions have no weight. But just as we now insist that women have an equal voice in politics, work, and other domains, we will, I predict, begin accepting and insisting that students have an equal voice in their own education. Or else our students will drop out (as they are doing), shoot at us (ditto), sue us, riot, or worse.

So, whenever and wherever I speak, I do my best to bring my own students to the meetings. I ask my hosts to select a panel of a half-dozen or so kids of different grade levels, genders, and abilities to talk with me and the audience. I ask only that the students be articulate and willing to speak their minds in front of an audience of educators. Some groups embrace the idea enthusiastically; others are wary. A few tell me they “just can’t find” kids — and this, from teachers — or cite some rule that prevents kids from being there. Nonetheless, I persist, both hoping for an effective panel and believing that the group will provide a model for integrating student input about their education into schooling and planning.

Young Minds, Fast Times

Credit: David Julian

What do I find? Almost all the groups are pleased and surprised by the result. In fact, the student panels are generally the highlight of my appearances. This comment after a discussion in front of the West Virginia Department of Education is typical: “It was the best thing we’ve ever done.”

By design, I typically don’t meet the students until just before I speak, and my only instructions are to “tell the truth as much as you feel comfortable.” I never know what the kids are going to say. One colleague told me, “That’s really brave.” I don’t see it that way. I see the panels as an opportunity to hear what the students think — whatever that may be. Listening to our students is always interesting and worthwhile, whether the kids are speaking their own minds (almost always the case) or whether they are channeling careful coaching they have received in advance from their teachers and parents (which happens occasionally, and is always quite obvious).

My approach, when conducting these panels, is to first ask the students a few setup questions:

  • What experiences in school really engaged you?
  • How do you use technology in school as opposed to outside of school?
  • What are your pet peeves?


The kids are allowed to pass if they don’t want to answer, which takes some of the pressure off, and the audience is invited to join in later.

Every one of these panels is unique, but certain common threads emerge: The students generally express a variety of feelings — gratitude for the good teachers they have, and frustration with the greater number they find not so good. They are full of ideas but often skeptical that things are going to change much.

So why am I, at the ripe old age of sixty-two, the person who gives students a voice? Perhaps it’s because the students agree with what I have to say. (They usually hear my talk before the panel.) Perhaps it’s because I communicate somehow to the kids that I truly respect their opinions. It turns out that not everyone can moderate these panels successfully, especially at first. It takes a willingness to accept whatever is said — good or bad, agree or disagree. But it is important for educators to try, because they so rarely converse with their kids about how they want to learn.

When I first started doing these panels, I regret, I took no notes. But over the past year I have tried to write down as many of the comments as possible. I have heard some enormously insightful comments from the students, particularly about the differences between students and their teachers. “There is so much difference between how students think and how teachers think,” offered a female student in Florida. A young man commented, “You think of technology as a tool. We think of it as a foundation — it’s at the basis of everything we do.”

“A lot of teachers make a PowerPoint and they think they’re so awesome,” said a girl in Florida. “But it’s just like writing on the blackboard.” A student in Albany, New York, pleaded the case for using technology in the classroom: “If it’s the way we want to learn, and the way we can learn, you should let us do it.”

One teacher queried, “Do computers cut you off from the world?” Not at all, said an excited student: “We share with others and get help. Technology helps — it strengthens interactions so we can always stay in touch and play with other people. I’ve never gone a day without talking to my friends online.”

One California high school served up a dose of common sense: “Kids grew up around computers. They love them. Their computers are their second teachers at home.” A student in West Virginia offered this nugget: “If I were using simulation in school, that would be the sweetest thing ever!”

Young Minds, Fast TimesMore than half of all secondary school students are excited about using mobile devices to help them learn; only 15 percent of school leaders support this idea.

Source: Project Tomorrow. Credit: David Julian

Blah, Blah, Blah

OK, so kids love computers. They all agree on that. There’s another thing they agree on: No matter where I go in the world — the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, or New Zealand — students are mind-numbingly bored in class. Listen up:
“I’m bored 99 percent of the time.” (California)

“School is really, really boring.” (Virginia)

“We are so bored.” (Texas)

“Engage us more.” (Texas)

[My teachers] bore me so much I don’t pay attention.” (Detroit)

“Pointless. I’m engaged in two out of my seven classes.” (Florida)
“The disconnect between what students want and what they’re receiving is significant,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, which tracks youth culture. “Student frustration is rising.”

I’ve heard some teachers claim that this is nothing new. Kids have always been bored in school. But I think now it’s different. Some of the boredom, of course, comes from the contrast with the more engaging learning opportunities kids have outside of school. Others blame it on today’s “continuous partial attention” (CPA), a term coined by Linda Stone, who researches trends and their consumer implications. Stone describes CPA as the need “to be a live node on the network,” continually text messaging, checking the cell phone, and jumping on email. “It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis,” she writes. “We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything.”

CPA differs from multitasking, which is motivated by a desire to be more efficient and typically involves tasks that demand little cognitive processing. We file and copy while we’re talking on the phone and checking email, for instance.

Is this really new? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it has always been the case. Excluding emergencies, or other experiences in which one’s adrenaline is flowing, humans typically always have multiple things on their minds. Still others attribute the boredom to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but the T-shirt I recently saw a kid wearing in Rockefeller Center belies this theory: “It’s Not Attention Deficit — I’m Just Not Listening!”

It’s none of the above. If you believe the opinions of kids around the world (and you ignore them at your peril), the source of the problem is abundantly clear, and it’s this: Today’s kids hate being talked at. They hate when teaching is simply telling. They hate lectures and tune them out.

I’ve heard teachers argue that some subjects and topics need to have lectures, but, in truth, this is only a justification for the failure of those teachers to change how they teach. It is absolutely not true; there are other ways, in any discipline, to get students to learn exactly the same material without lectures — as well as without worksheets, something else the kids tell us they really hate.

There are better ways to help them learn, and students expect us, as the adults in the room, to know how to use them. They say, for example, “If you made it more interesting we would respond better.” And, “If you give us a goal to get to, we’ll get there.”

Students universally tell us they prefer dealing with questions rather than answers, sharing their opinions, participating in group projects, working with real-world issues and people, and having teachers who talk to them as equals rather than as inferiors. Hopefully, this is useful information for teachers and other educators — and it is important that educators realize just how universal these opinions are.

Young Minds, Fast TimesNearly two-thirds of secondary school students want to use laptops, cell phones, or other mobile devices at school.

Source: Project Tomorrow. Credit: David Julian

“My Brain Is Exploding . . .”

For me, though, the best part of the student panels is always hearing the kids’ answers to my final question. I ask about their experience that day and whether their soapbox proved useful. “How do you like being able to talk to your teachers and supervisors about your learning?” I ask. I truly love their answers:
“I like the fact that we become equals. Students do not get the opportunity that often to share their ideas. If students and teachers could collaborate, a lot more would get done.” (Anaheim, California)

“A lot of students care — you just don’t realize it.” (Poway, California)

“Most of the time, the teachers are talking and I want to go to sleep. But now my brain is exploding.” (Poway, California)

“Don’t let this be a onetime thing.” (Poway, California)

“I think it’s important that you take time to see what we feel.” (West Virginia)

“Now you know what we think and how we feel. Hopefully, that will go to the heart.” (Texas)

“I waited twelve years for this.” (Texas)

“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it!” (Texas)

“As a general rule, you don’t hear from kids unless they’ve gotten into trouble.” (Anaheim, California)

“Both groups [teachers and students] can learn from each other.” (Anaheim, California)

“If you don’t talk to us, you have no idea what we’re thinking.” (Hawaii)
Clearly, the kids find it valuable to share with their educators their opinions on how they want to learn. Although skeptical, they hope those teachers and administrators who are trying to improve their education think so, too, and listen carefully to what the students have to say. Again, quoting the kids:
“It would be good if teachers have this conversation with us on the first day. But often, they don’t change anything.” (Texas)

“I hope this didn’t just go in one ear and out the other.” (Texas)
Have there been any quantifiable results in terms of real changes to the students’ daily lives? It’s hard (and probably early) to tell, although I do know for certain that the panels have had an influence on the administrators in the audiences. Many superintendents have invited me back to do the talks and panels again for their principals and teachers. Australian administrators distributed a three-CD set of the kids’ discussions to every teacher they supervise. My great hope is that, once modeled, these types of conversations will be repeated frequently in our schools, in the United States, and around the world.

Bottom-Up Input

After hosting dozens of these conversations, I realize one thing: We just don’t listen enough to our students. The tradition in education has been not to ask the students what they think or want, but rather for adult educators to design the system and curriculum by themselves, using their “superior” knowledge and experience.

But this approach no longer works. Not that the inmates should run the asylum, but as twenty-first-century leaders in business, politics, and even the military are finding out, for any system to work successfully in these times, we must combine top-down directives with bottom-up input. As the students have told me on more than one occasion, “We hope educators take our opinions into account and actually do something!” Until we do, their education will not be the best we can offer.

Marc Prensky is a speaker, writer, consultant, and game designer in the critical areas of education and learning. He is the author of Digital Game-Based Learning and Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning.

This article originally published on 5/22/2008

Flipping the Classroom with Discovery Ed


I am excited to find a way to share videos and segments of videos with my students to access at home through the subscription to Discovery Education. I download videos that I want to my dropbox and then share the link with my students. Having them in my dropbox allows me remember what videos I have as resources rather than having to check Discovery Ed’s website in addition to my own curricular files.

  1. Find the video or clip.
  2. Click the word Download located above the video.
  3. On the right there is a button that says, Currently Downloading. Click it.
  4. Select H.264 300K. This will be able to be played from the web on a PC or an Apple product, including an iPad or iPhone.  It saves as MPEG-4.
  5. Save to dropbox.

CUE Presentation Notes


Literature Circles

The presentation was by Tiffani D. Brown. She has revamped the Lit Circle to make as much of it digital as possible. Her website is www.tiffanidbrown.com, and click here to link to her presentation.

She referenced a bunch of websites, especially for comic making. I have added all of them to the Tools for the Classroom links on this page, but I haven’t tried to use any of them.

I haven’t had time to do a Lit Circle, but I modified her activity into a Reading Strategies Jigsaw Activity to use with any chapter of a core reading book.  I created groups of four students and gave each one a Task. Then Task groups met to review their directions and begin their assignment together. Students finished the assignment as homework if they didn’t finish with their group, and the following day presented their Tasks to their original group.

They then posted their completed assignments on Edmodo, and each student was required to comment on another student’s Task (not someone who did their own task or anyone in their own group) using PQP– Praise (what was good about it), Question (what do you not understand or wonder now), Polish (what would make this assignment stronger).  This took about 20 minutes of two separate days.

Agenda Blog



I now post my agenda for the day on a blog, and on edline I have posted a link to these blogs on every single day. Students at home or at school can see what we’re doing in class and their homework anytime during the day, and there’s no excuse for not knowing what we did if there was an absence. I am very specific with directions (turn this in to ebackpack, Mockingbird Essay folder)– it takes a little bit of time, but the information is there permanently and kids can do it from home. This has saved me with parents who say their kids are confused and don’t know what to do.

I am able to link websites and dropbox documents directly to the blog, so I am no longer putting documents in Ebackpack. If I modify a document, I don’t have to delete it and re-upload it to Ebackpack– the link to dropbox remains the same. All documents can be accessed on the iPad and downloaded to Pages or Notability. I also link to audiobooks I have in dropbox so kids can listen to a specific chapter of a book without giving them access to the entire book.

If my lesson plan changes because we don’t get to something or I need to re-adjust according to student learning needs, I can easily modify the Agenda within a few seconds. I keep the day’s agenda open and ready to edit on my desktop and change and update/publish as needed. When I make a mistake– like linking to a Word document instead of a PDF (happens all the time)– I go to my computer, with a few clicks update the link, have the kids refresh the page, and the new link is there.  If I don’t get two a whole activity, I can cut and paste it from yesterday to today with the links intact, or copy it if it’s a two day activity.

I also link to digital tests this way. I can password protect a test and change the password throughout the day, or close and re-open the test as needed.

Digital Portfolios

I am beta-testing my Journalism students on Digital Portfolios. They are currently working on a record and reflection of all that they’ve learned and accomplished this year, and I will have them share their site with each other and me by linking it on Edmodo. They are works in progress.

My digital directions to students:  www.mbmsjournalismportfolio.weebly.com

Student Samples:

Check out this student’s Writing Autobiography on the home page: http://sophiajournalism.weebly.com/

Check out this student’s Articles Page, with her first draft, final draft, and a reflection about each piece.


One more: www.lizzyjournalism.weebly.com

“Blogging” in the Classroom


Visit the site below to see how I use blogging in the classroom. I don’t use the word “blogging” in the traditional way– the students aren’t actually blogging. I post a blog– an article, a writing prompt, a critical thinking question, and require students to respond to it.

Thomas English 8th Grade Blog:  http://mbmsenglish8.wordpress.com

Some typical “blogs” I post:

  • Articles I find interesting or that I think kids will find interesting
  • Critical thinking questions pertaining to our curriculum
  • Quotes for students to respond to
  • Videos to elicit student responses
  • Poems for students to discuss
  • Parts left out of the movie (for To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • Examples of literary devices found in real life– similes in songs, alliteration in store names, allusions in clothing brands; and an explanation
  • Random topics: “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?”

Students are asked to click on the “Comments” button and write a response. I usually ask students to write a minimum of 100 words, include a topic sentence, supporting evidence, and explanation to support their assertions, and practice good writing skills.  For some students this is a stretch, and others write double and triple the minimum, depending on the topic.

Students who struggle with some of the more abstract concepts in the blog question are able to read what other students have written to help them understand the question. Reluctant students don’t often search out “more reading” before doing their writing (and often think they “get it” even if they don’t), so I have done lessons requiring students to find another student’s work that they think is good and analyze it for quality prior to writing their own answers. I have found that students are curious about what their peers are writing, and are often surprised to the writing of the people they know. They are then able to see the academic work that is expected of them.

Additionally, because the student comment is immediately published, I find more students rereading and editing their work (often in Word or Pages) before publishing, which improves the quality of writing. Students are holding themselves accountable to their peers.

Students can be asked to read through the blog and find best answers, interesting ideas, and otherwise review a topic.

GRADING: I have finally decided how I like to grade student blog entries. I experimented with generous grading directly from online, giving students points in a gradebook for completion and following directions. This was difficult when I have different sections of the same class because entries weren’t by class period and I jumped around my gradebook. I then made a full alphabetized list of all of my students, recorded grades, and then had a student TA record the grades in my gradebook. This, too, is cumbersome. Finally, I decided my expectations were also a problem– they were too easy and didn’t allow me to encourage good writing mechanics and reinforce topic sentence/supporting evidence paragraph structure.

My current strategy is to copy all blog responses and paste them into a Word document. I increase the font size to 12, decrease the margins, and check through pagination to make sure no response spans two pages. This requires about 10 minutes of time and several pages of printing. I then grade each response for structure, content, and mechanics out of 20 points. What I like about this is that I can have students revise if they want. I can also have students paste all of their graded entries onto a piece of paper and assess personal weaknesses in their writing– lots of run-ons, poor spelling, etc.  This helps with goal-setting for writing for the year.

How FanFiction can develop better student writers


From the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) SmartBrief. The direct link is below.

Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg… When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher Education.


Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg… When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher Education


[I’ve been a fan (yes, how apropos) of Chris Shamburg’s work for several years now, so it’s a real honor to post some of his thoughts on fandom and curriculum here. And for those of you attending the Fall Conference of NJASL, you should know that he’ll be speaking there one week from today, on November 30. -Peter]

March1 Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg... When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher EducationStarting around 2001, friends began to tell me about their children’s fascination with fanfiction—writing, reading, and critiquing it. By the time the fourth person told me how much fanfiction had helped her daughter grow as a confident writer I had already started exploring its role in student writing.

Over the last eight years I have used fanfiction in my work as a teacher educator. It is a formal part of a graduate course on “Technology in the English Language Arts” that I teach, and it has worked its way into other work I do as well.

In that graduate class, I share my research and encourage teachers to consider using fanfiction in their own teaching. Though the specifics of the project changes, there are a few general stages that we work through.

My first tact is to legitimize the practice of creative appropriation by having the class explore it in literary history—from Shakespeare, who hardly has an original plot, to Chaucer’s use of Homer, to Milton’s ‘missing scenes’ from the Bible, to more contemporary works such as John Gardner’sGrendel and the Geraldine Brooks’ March, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.

Teachers begin to see that fan appropriation can be a
There is little dissent among teachers at this point—agreed, great authors have borrowed and built on other great authors. We then look at popular fanfiction genres, and I use these short descriptions…lens to view canonical literature. This legitimizes the act of appropriation and complicates the concept of originality.

Missing Scenes—scenes that are not in the original story, but would make sense in it. The missing scene would fill in some information that the original text left out. For example, what do the villains do in comic books when the story is focused on the super heroes?

Alternate Perspective—the story is told from the point of view of another character. For example, what would the Cinderella story be like if the stepmother told it?

Alternate Universe—a major character or event in a story is changed, and a “What If…” scenario ensues. For example, what if Peter Parker were bitten by a radioactive ant?

Alternate Realities—characters from one story enter the world of another story. For example, what would happen if characters from one video game went to a different video game?

Sequels—the story that happens after the original story. For example, what does George do after the events in Of Mice and Men?

Prequels—the story before the original story. For example, what was Juliet doing before the events of the play?

Self Insert—the story is rewritten with an avatar (representation of the author). For example, what would a Harry Potter adventure be like if you were in the story?

(Shamburg, 2008, 2009)

NYCC 2012 Fans Cosplay 500x375 Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg... When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher EducationThe next step is the most critical and controversial part of the endeavor: getting teachers to keep the fan in fanfiction. I ask teachers to allow students to bring in their out-of-school interests as the subjects for their writing—the stories from the books, movies, comics, and games that they love. While many see the benefit of using fanfiction genres on school books they already teach—books that require extra motivation for students to read—challenging the canon is a tough one for many teachers. However, unless fanfiction and fans are treated in respectful ways, these techniques and genres do not have a substantive impact, especially for students who are reluctant writers. The power of fanfiction lies in validating and building on students’ interests. While I believe there is a place for Shakespeare, Homer, Lee, and Hawthorne in students’ education, my experience as a teacher, parent, and teacher educator shows me room and opportunities for the stories, games, comics, and movies that consume students outside of school. Teachers don’t have to teach Harry Potter, Captain America, or World of Warcraft, but they can allow students to build their writing on these stories.

Along with working with fanfiction in a formal graduate class, I’ve had some other notable experiences with fanfiction in education. I recently supervised a graduate student’s research project on the use of fanfiction in an elementary writing program. In this year-long project, the student developed a scope and sequence that moved her student’s longer pieces of  writing and more ambitious appropriations of popular work (Brooten, 2009). I also assisted a school librarian as she developed a third-grade project on 3D Storytelling, where students chose and appropriated images to create fan-based stories (Latimer, 2011). What was fascinating about the 3D Storytelling project was its origin. The school principal asked her to develop some counterbalance to the Battle of the Books, a unit that seemed to simply reward students who were traditionally successful in school and ignore others. The 3D Storytelling project allowed all students to creatively synthesize existing stories into new material.

Spockanalia Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg... When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher EducationI’ve gotten the most enjoyment from using fanfiction activities when I periodically teach ninth-grade students at NJeSchool, a public online secondary program in New Jersey. I teach the English course “Student Podcasting and 21st Century Literacy.” This course was developed to teach contemporary skills and as well as to capitalize on the online environment. In the fanfiction project students have to remix audio clips from existing shows into a new story. For example, one student created a story where Rocky Balboa gets a pep talk from Yoda (Shamburg, 2008b).

Fanfiction allows kids to be creative with familiar raw material. It validates where they are developmentally, but it demands that they take different perspectives on familiar situations and stories. Teachers would do themselves and their students a favor if they would consider using it in authentic ways.

Works Cited

Brooten, D. (2009).  New literacies: Practical applications in an elementary classroom. Unpublished Thesis, New Jersey City University.

Latimer, J. (2011).Digital storytelling. Retrieved September 15, 2012 from The Anywhere Librarian http://www.anywherelibrarian.com/?page_id=387

Shamburg, C. (2008).  National Educational Technology Standards: Units for the English Language Arts grades 9-12.  Eugene OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Shamburg, C (2008b). Fanfiction.  retrieved September 15, 2012 from Podcoursehttp://podcourse.blogspot.com/2008/11/fanfiction.html

Shamburg, C. (2009).  Student-Powered Podcasting: Teaching for 21st Century Literacy.  Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.


shamburg mug shot small Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg... When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher EducationChristopher Shamburg is a Professor of Educational Technology at New Jersey City University and the author of several books. Before teaching college he was a high school English teacher for 10 years. He has won several awards for teaching, including the New Jersey Distinguished Teacher Educator in 2012. He can be reached atcshamburg@gmail.com or  http://web.njcu.edu/faculty/cshamburg/