Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Fun with Satire Personas

My students are at that time of year where they need to be constantly entertained.  They like the satire unit we’re in the midst of (some of them have even said so out loud!), but their attention spans are starting to resemble that of my eight year old this afternoon as the rain poured down outside.  I don’t blame them.

And I’ve tried to rise to the occasion for them:  Our Poetry Bracket Challenge wraps up tomorrow, we’ve examined “This Is America” (amazing conversation–I highly recommend spending some time with this if you haven’t already), and we’ve even built our own memes as a way of practicing our satire skills.  It’s all been fun, but the sunshine keeps beckoning through the window and so I keep having to find more and more entertaining distractions that also happen to have educational value. It’s exhausting.

But, as usual, Twitter proves to be an English teacher’s best buddy!  As with a lot of the best stuff on Twitter, this account just started showing up in my feed because it kept getting retweeted by other people I follow.  It turned out to be an incredible model for satire, writing with voice, and even teaching kids how to develop a persona or character in subtle ways.

Out of context, though, it was a little confusing the first couple of times.  For example:

man journalists

man stress dad

It felt like an odd joke, and while the account’s handle immediately had me thinking satire or parody, it was hard to say whether it was self-aware or just ridiculing women’s magazines or doing something else entirely (the grotesque alt-right term “cuck” even popped into my head for a moment, but it wasn’t being retweeted by the type who’d be entertained by that sort of trash).  

After seeing it a few more times though, it became obvious what the account was doing:

man pronouns

The entire feed takes the cis male perspective and turns it on its head. The account itself plays the straight man, embodying a straightforward, unironic tone while presenting all sorts of perspectives and takes about the male gender as if they were reasonable topics for consideration.  

The joke of course is that each tweet is actually a clever parody of the sort of garbage takes that are often lobbed at women in digital media spaces from “objective” cis male writers and “thinkers” who claim to mean well but are really perpetuating stereotypes or subversively trying to reinforce gender roles while pretending at open-mindedness.  

Notice the tweet below, for example, which asks a question that ostensibly places blame for workplace harassment on “form fitting” trousers that these sexpot male professors are always wearing to work.  There are multiple layers of absurdity here, but beneath it all is an unmistakable criticism of a social media trend. A “harmless” question is posed that really smuggles in an entire argument already functioning inside of it.  Of course on ACTUAL Twitter the question would always have the genders reversed–it isn’t men who have this sort of question about appropriate dress leveled at them, it’s women.

man loose trousers

My students will be wrestling with a few of these posts to try and make sense of the satire mechanisms at work–it’s a really difficult “text” unless you have access to a broad swath of the tweets all at once, and even then, the target (the unenlightened cis male worldview, in a nutshell) requires a lot of contextual knowledge in order to spot.  It’s a good workout for a whole host of English muscles we’ve been trying to flex this unit.

It might also be useful for other areas of study though:  I think the idea of carefully crafting a persona like this over time–one tweet at a time–is an interesting challenge that speaks to character development while emphasizing brevity in writing.  Creating a persona over time, say, one tweet or Facebook post per bell ringer, would be a fantastic way to help them stretch themselves as writers without the frustrating mental block of having to create a full-fledged personality within the time crunch of a single writing deadline.  

If you’re looking for such characterization models, this account is the tip of the iceberg–Twitter is teeming with fictionalized personalities that have been carefully curated by their ghost writers to feel fully fleshed out (except for the actual flesh, I guess).  Have fun–find a Twitter “character” that speaks to your own sense of humor and share it with the kids.  They’ll still spend some of their time looking out the window (even if it’s raining), but they’ll still be grateful for the change of pace.

–Mike

How do you help students wrestle with the subtler aspects of satire?  Characterization?  Let us know on Facebook or on Twitter (of course!) at @ZigThinks .

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But how do you start a unit of analytical writing?

SunshineOne of my colleagues just went out on a limb and had her sixth graders compose graphic essays. I’ve wanted to do this for years but haven’t had the nerve; I had a million questions! She gave me her rationale, her goals for the unit, the methods she used to scaffold the work for her students, the final products.

And yet, I still had one more question: “But what words did you say to start this?”

A reader had a similar question for us recently — “How do you start a unit of the kind of analytical writing you advocate for in Beyond Literary Analysis?” —  and it’s a really good question. How do you start? What do you say day one, minute one? What language do you use to communicate to your students what they are about to do — especially when jumping into something as challenging as analysis and as wide-open as Analyze-Anything-You-Want-In-the-World.

Although we spend the biggest chunk of Beyond Literary Analysis providing lessons for your class, we never do address the very first day or what a unit of analysis study might look like. We made this choice in part because it looks very much like the way we proceed in any unit of study (I’ve written about it here, and it gets a whole chapter of Writing With Mentors). Where our mini-lessons typically go, I use mini-lessons on passion, ideas, structure, and authority from the book based on what I think my students need most at that moment.

But I thought it might be worth spending a moment talking just about gearing up and getting going, including the language I use to explain to students what they are about to embark upon when they are writing free-choice, wholehearted, passion-driven analysis.

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Beyond Literary Analysis Q&A Winner

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Thank you so much, Beyond Literary Analysis reviewers! It means so much to us to know what you think about the book and how you’re planning to use it with your students!

We were running a little contest for reviewers on GoodReads and Amazon, and the big winner is GoodReads reviewer Alison! Here is her review:

Every English teacher needs this book. I eventually put down my highlighter because I wanted to highlight nearly every sentence. I’ve long observed that literary analysis is difficult for students because they just don’t have enough experience with literature. However, I’ve also observed that students (and people in general) analyze all the time–movies, songs, restaurants, ice cream stores. Therefore, the following statement in Marchetti and O’Dell’s book hit home: “This is what we do when we give our students a task on which they cannot succeed–we water down. We control, control, control. In the absence of critical thinking and true analysis, we give fill-in-the-blank outlines, hand students thesis statements, offer up formulas until we think they can be successful. Ultimately, none of our objectives for either the literature or writing are met” (20). Yes. Yes. Yes.

This book makes the now obvious claim that if you allow students to analyze things about which they are passionate and knowledgeable, they can focus on truly learning how to write–how to make decisions as a writer and how to use writing to convey important ideas that others will genuinely care about. A happy side effect is that teachers get more interesting and varied analysis essays. Where has this book been all my life?

Marchetti and O’Dell walk teachers through various ways to help students find, explore, and develop subjects and topics for analysis. The final part of the book is a how-to for the most popular student topics: movies/tv, sports, music, video games–and they threw in literary analysis to keep teachers happy 🙂

I cannot recommend this book enough. I’ve got to get back to the classroom so I can live out its ideals. The ideas here are good for both students and for teachers.

Alison, please send us an email at movingwriters@gmail.com so we can set up a time for a Q&A!

And other readers, please keep the reviews coming! Thanks to all who have reviewed the book so far!

Also Twitter: A Useful Tool for Teaching Structure

I’ve spent a lot of time this year chatting with colleagues about Twitter and its usefulness to educators.  Mostly, we chat about the challenges of getting used to its format (it’s not fun to figure out–I almost gave up in my first week or so of fiddling with it), but sometimes the question is simply “What’s it good for?”

My answer is always the same:  Connections to great educators, incredibly fast news updates, amazing animal and nature videos…and the greatest comedy on the planet.

I could recommend some great follows for Serious Teachers or nature lovers out there, but for now I want to suggest to you that comedy Twitter is

  1. The best Twitter (as they say on Twitter) and
  2. A great resource for teaching students about writing structure with fun, playful mini-lessons.

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Getting Ready to Go Beyond Literary Analysis!

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We are joining our friends at Heinemann to present a 3-part webinar series designed to get you ready to help your students move beyond literary analysis! You can read session descriptions and register here.

Here’s an overview:

We are getting ready to go BIG—to a place in students’ writing beyond five-paragraph analyses of themes and formulas that dictate their every sentence; to a place past our fear and their dread; to a place of passion and discovery in analytical writing.

This isn’t an insignificant change, though. To give students the transformational skills of analytical writing that are truly transferable, you will likely be striking out into a brave new world of teaching far different from the way you were taught and far different than the way you’ve been teaching analytical writing in the past. You need to prepare.

That’s what we’re doing in this webinar series: giving you the background, the foundation, the language, and the practice you need to feel ready to jump into this new kind of writing work with your students! In our time together, we will:

  • Talk about why this shift is so necessary;
  • Give you tips for explaining this change to others;
  • Introduce you to the four essential tools of analysis and let you practice with them;
  • Help you build creative energy into all the nooks and crannies of your classroom so that passionate writing can happen;
  • Teach you how to turn students’ passions into texts for analysis;
  • Help you plan how to use activities for discovery and crafting techniques throughout the writing process in whole-class, small-group, and conferring settings.

Join us to get ready to turn analytical writing in your classroom upside down!

Review Beyond Literary Analysis & Win!

Review Beyond Literary Analysis

We are dying to know what you think of Beyond Literary Analysis! So, we’re running a contest!

Post a review of our new book on GoodReads or Amazon between today and Friday, April 6, and your name will be entered into a drawing for a 30-minute Google Hangout Q&A for you, or you and a buddy, or you and a buddy and a bottle of wine, or you and your department!

Want to earn additional entires? Take a picture of you reading Beyond Literary Analysis, post it to social media, and tag #BeyondLiteraryAnalysis. You’ll earn an additional entry for each photo.

We love this book and we love you, so we can’t wait to hear what you’ve been thinking as you read!

Beyond Literary Analysis – Free Study Guide

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Whether you are interested in studying Beyond Literary Analysis on your own, with a teacher buddy, or as a department, we have written a study guide to facilitate your thinking and discussions!

You can find it FOR FREE (along with a sample chapter from the book!) on Heinemann’s website!

Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Fun with Maps

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I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to get lost in the weeds on Twitter–with all the wonderful educators and pundits and armchair comedians I follow, I can find myself miles from my original feed in just a few retweet-clicks.  Good thing Twitter is full of Brilliant Maps!

Or at least it’s the home of one lovely cartographical (I totally guessed about whether that was a word or not–no spell check squiggle!) feed that I’m excited to add to my classroom for both freewriting activities and some deeper context exploration this semester:  The aptly-named @BrilliantMaps .  This feed is the home of countless wonderful maps that do everything from highlighting current events and hot-button political issues to providing mind-bending perspectives about how we understand the physical (and sometimes psychological) spaces we exist in.

My students love visuals (actually whenever I say “visuals” they hope after the first syllable that I’m about to say “video” but the mildness of their disappointment tells me they like visuals almost as much).  They make for great writing prompts and spur class discussions that might otherwise dwindle after we’d picked apart a news article or story.  The subjects of the maps here are wide-ranging and not always practical, but man do they make for compelling conversation and writing opportunities.

Check out this one:  

brilliant maps adults living at home
image via @BrilliantMaps (Twitter)

I’ve actually had interesting conversations with students the past few years about the topic of living at home with parents after college versus striking out on their own, so this map would be fascinating to show kids and ask them to reflect on.  What factors might have caused the change?  What implications are there for the country or regions of it based on these shifts?  Why would anyone collect this data to begin with?  The mere fact that the information is so unusual compared to the sorts of things we usually encourage them to examine makes it worth our time!

Here’s another favorite.  It reveals how the election would have turned out if “Did Not Vote” represented a candidate instead of just people staying home.  

brilliant maps did not vote

image via @BrilliantMaps (Twitter)

Look at that map!  People staying home and not exercising their voting rights would have accounted for ALMOST 500 electoral votes!  An amazing stat, but more striking as a visual–especially if you have time to examine why a small handful of states actually have a more active voting population and escape the gray fate of the rest.

One of the coolest things about following @BrilliantMaps though is that it isn’t all heavy and serious.  Some of their maps are playful–and occasionally not really classroom appropriate, so be selective–and others take a crack at visualization just for the fun of mapping things never intended to be rendered into maps.  Like this one!  A map of every character’s travels throughout the first Star Wars film.  Yes they have one for each of the other original films.  Yes I’m going to make you go dig through the feed to see them for yourself.  

brilliant maps star wars

image via @BrilliantMaps (Twitter)

Maps might not seem highly useful to an English classroom at first blush, but consider the number of skills involved in interpreting one–they carry unspoken and varying degrees of implication and require quite a bit of synthesizing if you want to apply the information they provide to your own view of the world.  And besides, aren’t you already imaging what student-drawn maps of the major characters travels in their independent novels would look like?  

Pretty cool, I’d bet.

If you’re looking for even more cartographical cookiness (that’s a word too!  English is crazy!)?  Check out the utterly impractical but often laugh-aloud funny @TerribleMaps which is exactly what it sounds like plus wildly uneven, but fun follow that might just prove useful every once in a while too.  Like this gem:

terrible maps
–Mike

 

Do you find yourself #tweaching some days? Connect with us on Twitter @TeacherHattie or @ZigThinks. We’d love to know what you’re up to!

Beyond Literary Analysis — a new book!

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If you’re like us, you have taught literary analysis because it seems important, necessary. It seems like the thing we secondary writing teachers do. And yet, if you’re like us, the results haven’t been the stunning works of boundary-breaking criticism you’d like.

We’d like to introduce you to our new book (just out today!), Beyond Literary Analysis. In this book, we show you why a literary-analysis-only model of writing instruction doesn’t work, we introduce you to myriad examples of analysis in the world, and give you the four essential tools all writers need to write dynamic, original analysis regardless of the text they are analyzing!

You can order Beyond Literary Analysis from Heinemann or from Amazon (who should have it in stock shortly!).