I’m a high school English Language Arts teacher and in the early days of my career, the research project was one of my most important assignments. You name it, I taught it: I-search, historical journals, literary research, and controversial issue papers. They were all a very big deal. But I have a confession to make: I hated them. The students hated them. Parents hated them.
Eventually, they were phased out in favor of shorter mini-projects that could teach the same skills. Traditional research papers and the steps we took to produce them lost their relevance in our modern world. It was easy to say good riddance to the hours in the library and the stacks of index cards. No one seems to be the worse for it.
With the advent of social media, our students are inundated with a constant stream of information. Like curators, they select information to keep and share. This article from Teen Vogue on Snapchat, that post from a celebrity on Twitter, this inspiring image on Instagram: all curated, arranged and archived. These students are researching and curating constantly, but are they aware of the digital footprint they are leaving? Are they thoughtful about attribution? Will they be able to take the skills they use in their personal life for entertainment and use them in their academic and professional lives?
I spent some time thinking about the ways that I curate my social media feeds, choosing carefully who to follow and what to post. I looked at my collection of articles, some curated for my students to read, and some to save for myself or to share with colleagues. Surely students are curating their social media feeds as well. Maybe they are not as cognizant about the purpose of what they post to their timeline, but it is curated nonetheless. I have one student who only posts pictures and memes of golden retrievers, another who posts representing our school’s student government, another is a fangirl whose posts are all related to One Direction and Harry Stiles. You get my point. Why not bring their curating to their attention and use it as a get-to-know-you assignment and a way to help seniors start thinking about their college essays?
I began by showing students what curation is and why we do it. I shared my experiences and what I observed my fifteen-year-old daughter doing on social media. Then, I asked them to curate a Pinterest board or Flipboard that represented who they are and what’s important to them.
Pinterest is an app that allows users to “pin” items to a digital “board.” Users can curate, collect, save, and share any digital media or create their own “pins” or “boards” to save and share. Click here to see a tutorial on how to use Pinterest.
Flipboard is an app that allows the user to make digital “magazines” from content across the web and from their own original content. Students can use it to create a great-looking magazine of their own content. Flipboard looks cool on a desktop, but it really is best in the mobile format. Click here for the lowdown on how to use Flipboard.
After showing my students these apps, I reminded them that curation should be a thoughtful process, not one where they just pick the first item they find and pop it onto their board.
They were to post 10 items, with two being something they created themselves. Once their board was complete, I asked them to submit an essay explaining their process and reflecting on the end product. You can click here to view the assignment I gave my 11th and 12th-grade students. As you will see, the all-important skills of citation and attribution are included in the assignment.
I then created a Pinterest board for them to use as an example, but looking back I wish I hadn’t. I think they may have been influenced by my choices. I didn’t spend much time explaining how to use Pinterest or Flipboard, since most of my students had used these sites before. I reminded them that I would be happy to help anyone who needed it. Only a few students requested a tutorial on how to use Pinterest or Flipboard.
Click here to see how one student’s Flipboard Magazine and see below for an example of one student’s Pinterest Board
While the students’ Pinterest boards and Flipboard magazines were enjoyable to look at, their reflection writing helped them see the value in this activity. Angelo commented on his process:
“I think that the curation project was challenging not because it was grueling work but because it made me think about what things I held dear and what I would tell others if forced to describe myself concisely. In order to do that I had to reflect on the things that I believe were the fundamentals in my life which was actually a good experience.”
This project was a good get-to-know-you project and works well as a primer for the seniors to write their college personal essays. In the future, I plan to use Flipboard in place of my literary research projects for students to curate online literary magazines that will explore a favorite author, genre, or period of literature. Students could also use Flipboard to make published portfolios they can include with their college applications. My colleague in science used Flipboard as a way for her students to publish and reflect on their research in Biology. Really, the possibilities are endless.