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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Facebook Status Can Be a Starting Point for Hesitant Writers

A Facebook Status Can Be a Starting Point for Hesitant Writers

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One of my students wrote a 150-word personal essay. It was heartfelt. It was raw. It was also a Facebook status.

So I'm a little confused. That's because this student—let's call her Lisa—often struggles to complete most of the writing I assign in seventh grade language arts. Regardless of the topic or the discourse of writing, Lisa fights to come up with the ideas, let alone the words, to complete the assignments. On several occasions this year, she has visited my classroom during study hall for one-on-one help with her assignments.

In fact, just two weeks ago, I asked my students to write the first draft of a personal narrative essay. For writing ideas, I included several prompts from which they could choose, and if they didn't like any of the prompts, they could create their own. Lisa has yet to turn this assignment in, yet she did . . . on her own . . . unprompted . . . write this Facebook status, an extremely personal—albeit brief—essay that expresses her belief in the importance of friendship, her deep concerns about our society's preoccupation with physical perfection, and the dangers of self-destructive behaviors.

Her status is actually a solid start to a keenly insightful personal essay or memoir. The status is clearly and succinctly written and grammatically clean. I sense the voice of the writer bubbling to the surface through her carefully chosen words.  It has an existential, reflective quality that we often discount, dismiss, or "test out of" our kids today.

So what happened? What possessed Lisa to write in her free time . . . over spring break, no less?! Answer: the "authenticity" of the experience. She knew she had an audience. She knew her work would be read and pondered, and that it would elicit "reactions." She knew it might make a difference, it might matter.

Current writing pedagogy advocates that teachers provide authentic writing experiences to increase student engagement and motivation. As a fifth-year rookie teacher, I try to involve my students in similar experiences as much as I can, and I'm gradually getting better at providing more and more of these opportunities. For example, I post their writing in the room and hallway, and I've begun to post their writing in a blog on my classroom website.  One student will have an article published soon in a local newspaper. We enter contests. Now, Lisa's status has shown me that social media can offer authenticity as well.

Yes, many (myself included) consider social media a diversion that primarily engages young people in abbreviated, often pointless, conversation. Much of what one sees while scrolling Facebook, especially among young people, is brief, inconsequential texting. But occasionally, you find a gem of a status like Lisa's that surprises you. Cling to these authentic experiences, incorporate them into a lesson, or otherwise use them to show hesitant writers that their thinking on social media can be consequential and have greater purpose.

Lisa's personal essay, as it reads now as her Facebook status, doesn't contain a narrative, a story . . . yet. But it does contain the impetus, the spark necessary to ignite the story that is already there in her memory and is waiting to be told. When she weaves that story into her status, she'll have a personal essay bonfire that will illuminate the writer she is becoming. And she'll have one fewer missing assignment on the list.


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I have had my students create digital portfolios on Weebly.com, which also gives them the option of adding a blog page to their site. For the first time this year we lost access to Weebly -- users must be 13 to create an account, and since I teach middle school, most of our students are not 13 so the district blocked these kinds of sites. So this year we improvised and used Google Docs as blogs. Since they allow for comments and replies, they work well for blogging. Any way I can get them writing, reading, commenting and replying works for me!

Ethan's picture

Laura, you can use google+1 to use the GREAT sites that districts block. You are in total control as the "created" emails are just ghost accounts.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Hey Ethan, how does that work? Do you mean create accounts on Weebly for my students? That still wouldn't work since they can't get to Weebly at school.

Lisa_MCcoy's picture
Lisa_MCcoy
Parent. Teacher. Budding Writer

Facebook is a great platform for finding hidden writing talent in may of us. Excellent post!

Marilyn Yung's picture
Marilyn Yung
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

Thank you, Laura, for suggesting Google Docs as a blog option. I'm enjoying checking out that possibility and apologize for the slow reply!

Marilyn Yung's picture
Marilyn Yung
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

Thanks, Lisa, for your comment! It's refreshing to my students that their teacher appreciates the positive aspects of social media.

Renea D.'s picture

Thank you for sharing this! I also have students who struggle when it comes to writing. And like "Lisa" they refuse to think of ideas for themselves. It is great how she used Facebook as a platform. I think you are absolutely correct when you explain how she knew she had an audience. We often look at social media as being just that, a social experience, but "Lisa" used it as her forum to beginning her writing journey. Awesome!

Marilyn Yung's picture
Marilyn Yung
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

Thank you, Renea for commenting. Lisa is gradually gaining confidence in her writing. I like how Facebook is an unintimidating way for her to explore and express her ideas.

Renea D.'s picture

What other strategies have you used in the past to help students generate ideas and thoughts when writing?

Marilyn Yung's picture
Marilyn Yung
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

With personal narrative essay assignments, whether in-class or for homework, I will provide students a list of prompts that they may choose from. However, if they don't see a prompt that inspires them, they can create their own. (For arguments or informative essays, I also always provide prompts from which they can choose.) Being able to choose what they want to write about is always a plus, and I've had former students tell me that they miss being able to choose their topics in their high school English classes. This always makes me a little sad because I really want them to love writing, and it seems all too often teachers are good at making writing boring. Oh, and another thing, I hear this a lot: I can't think of anything. -or- Nothing like this has ever happened to me. -or- I don't have anything exciting to write about. My response: "Just give yourself some time to think. If you stare at the wall for half an hour or more, that's fine. Give yourself time to remember." Works every time!

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