Students Can Purposefully Create Information, Not Just Consume It

Students Can Purposefully
Create Information, Not Just
Consume It
Diane Lapp, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, & Alex Gonzalez
Why not harness the possibilities of social media and invite students
to use them to create and contribute academic content to a larger
ocial media has become adolescents’ primary platform for communicating with one
another. We wondered if we could harness
the empowering potential of social media and invite students to use these tools to create and contribute academic content to a larger community. We
know that educators can integrate the use of social
media tools into the classroom (Rosen, Mark
Carrier, & Cheever, 2013). Often, these tools are
used to provide students with opportunities to consume information. We wanted to explore students’
Authors (left to right)
Diane Lapp is a Distinguished Professor of Education at San Diego State
University and an Instructional Coach at Health Sciences High and Middle
Douglas Fisher is a Professor of Education at San Diego State University
and the Dean of Faculty Affairs at Health Sciences High and Middle
Nancy Frey is a Professor of Education at San Diego State University
and the Dean of Academic Affairs at Health Sciences High and Middle
Alex Gonzalez is the Technology Coordinator at Health Sciences High and
Middle College.
ability to contribute new information while being
sensitive not to co-opt adolescents’ literacies for
school-based purposes. Doing so involved redesigning curriculum and instruction to provide experiences that integrated the production side of social
Internet users of today, including our students
and ourselves, have a much more prominent role in
contributing content to the web. This is due to the
shift we have experienced from Web 1.0 to Web
2.0. Where in Web 1.0 only few were content creators and the majority of users were consumers of
content. In Web 2.0, any participant can be a content creator, and numerous technological aids have
been created to maximize the potential for content
creation (Cormode & Krishnamurthy, 2008). These
aids include video sharing sites like YouTube
(, and Vimeo (http://vimeo.
com), photo sharing services Flickr (http://flickr.
com) and 500px (, as well as social networking sites that have taken sharing user
created content to new heights due to their popularity, including Facebook (
and Twitter ( These technologies and services have successfully given users the
ability to create, publish, and share content
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(3) November 2014 doi:10.1002/jaal.353 © 2014 International Reading Association (pp. 182–188)
Leveraging Engagement With
There is no question about it, our students have adopted a digital ecosystem bursting with opportunities.
What we make of these opportunities is key. Give students a pencil and paper, and they will write an essay.
Provide students access to social media, and they will
give you a viral online campaign. What does it take to
create informative, purposeful instruction that invites
students to produce work clearly demonstrating their
understanding of both the topic and the medium(s)?
We offer the following learning experiences to illustrate the various ways that students can become creators of information.
In considering the examples that follow, note
that each is rooted within an instructional purpose.
Focusing on lesson purpose allows educators to explore the available tools, while filtering through apps
and tools that feature functions that can facilitate
students accomplishing the lesson purpose(s). In our
lesson planning, we discuss the teaching and learning objectives and reflect on prior tech-based and
non-tech experiences to better assess students’ needs
before we select a specific tool. A quick meeting
with the school’s technology specialist, or a tech
savvy teacher, can help an idea bloom. In many
cases what is needed is some help identifying the
needs of the classroom and the types of technology
Developing a plan of action and piloting the activity is a great way to prepare for the real experience,
and thus eliminate taking on an activity that is great
in theory, only to find that it does not work as planned
in a whole-class setting. Discussing possibilities and
procedures prior to going “live” can really be beneficial to the overall reception and impact of the lesson.
The point is to be open to discussing possibilities, and
taking a look at resources available that can help create incredible learning experiences for the teacher
and students.
Moving Beyond Information
Consumers to Information Creators
We also realized that our students were using social
network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr,
Instagram, and Vine to share their thoughts and
opinions openly. By doing so, they become creators
of information rather than just consumers. Examining the communication shift these mediums
were making in the world, it became clear that the
world outside our classrooms was surpassing the experiences occurring within. Communication, collaboration, deeper inquiry and thinking, reflection
and understanding were all activities students were
experiencing through social media. Taking cues
from these observations prompted our conversations and attempts to bring social media opportunities into our classrooms as a way to expand students’
roles from information consumers to information
Ninth Grade ELA ShowMe Peer Review Project
Lesson Purpose: Acknowledge and understand
the uses of literary terms in poetry.
Multimedia projects have an important role in providing students opportunities to collaborate, be creative, and produce a piece of work that captures their
knowledge and understanding, as well as their personality and individuality. In ninth grade English
class, teacher Kelly Johnson invited students to use
well-established criteria to review a peer’s poetry
scrapbook. The review was shared by recording a
screencast on an iPad. In their screencast, students
were asked to review the poems chosen or written by
their peer, while identifying the uses of literary terms
in the poems. Students used the app called ShowMe
to capture an image, and record their annotations
and voice while reviewing the scrapbooks. The app
supported students producing a video that was then
Students Can Purposefully Create Information, Not Just Consume It
We made a commitment several years ago to
support teachers’ and students’ understanding and
use of technology to better facilitate teaching and
learning. With a school population of more than
600 students, 75% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, we acknowledged the importance of
providing the tools necessary at school. We wrote
grants that helped fund our efforts within the areas
of professional development and the purchase of
technology. We opened up our WiFi to allow students to use our network connection, and encouraged those who have the devices to use them for
learning purposes. In our roles as teacher leaders
(Doug and Nancy), instructional coach and teacher
(Diane), and technology coordinator (Alex), we recognized the importance of supporting our classrooms with technology and training to understand
their uses.
5 8 (3 ) N OVEMBER 2014
posted in their online class Wiki and shared with the
larger community. This activity provided students a
chance to collaborate and contribute to their classroom community by creating a product that provided peers with feedback and perspective about
their work. By providing students with an online
space to post their videos, like others (Forte &
Bruckman, 2009) we found that students were empowered by their ability to create and manage their
own online community. This community served as a
place where student authors could assess and reflect
on their work based on the reviews of their peers. It
also enabled reviewers to think more closely about
their own scrapbooks as they reviewed the work of
their peers.
In order to do this, Kelly and Alex met and discussed ways to innovate her poetry unit. In the past,
her students would produce a paper-based review of
the scrapbooks and share their feedback with each
other. Her classroom had recently received a cart
with iPads, and she wanted to take advantage of this
classroom technology. As our conversation about innovating the unit progressed, we discussed multiple
options and tools that could be used to engage and
update her lesson. Eventually, screencasting became
the medium of choice. On iPads, screencasting takes
form through interactive whiteboard apps such as
ShowMe, Explain Everything, ScreenChomp, or
Educreations. These apps give users the ability to
take a picture, annotate, narrate, and publish online.
In Kelly’s class, we used ShowMe. In order to use
ShowMe, Kelly created an account on their website
(, and downloaded their
app from the App Store (iTunes App Store link: Once she had the app on her
iPad, she was able to log into her account, create a
video, and publish it onto her account. Kelly then
wanted students to post their video reviews in her
LMS, so that the entire class could do a digital gallery
walk. To do this, she needed to copy the embed code
for her ShowMe video and paste it into her LMS.
ShowMe, like most Web 2.0 tools, offers ways to
publish and share content on multiple sites through
links and embed codes.
“Students were empowered by
their ability to create and manage
their own online community.”
Prior to having students take this on, Kelly and
Alex modeled for students how to access the app,
capture a photo, begin to record, annotate, save, and
publish. These 15 minutes of modeling and thinking aloud were essential in helping students understand the purpose behind using the iPads and the
ShowMe app. Once orientated, students were ready
to begin creating content and sharing it with
10th Grade ELA Facebook Project
Lesson Purpose: Promote the awareness of a
worthy cause through the use of findings
publicized in social media outlets.
As part of Heather Anderson’s 10th grade English
class “worthy cause” project, she asked students to
create informational brochures that would promote
awareness of their chosen cause.
She wanted her students to understand the
power of their voices by charging them to use their
favorite social media site to reach a larger audience.
Doing so, she opened the doors to Facebook and
welcomed its features to help students build social
cause pages that promoted social and civic
Heather modeled the components of a credible
project, including how to create an appropriate page,
prior to students assuming responsibilty for the project. As part of her modeling, Heather pointed out
and acknowledged their familiarity with common
uses of Facebook, but also noted the extensive reach
and impact a message can have when shared with a
much larger audience. This provided students the
chance to witness how they consume the popular
content on Facebook as well as how they could also
be the creators of valuable, credible, purposeful
This project was structured in a way that maintained focus on the purpose and not simply the use
of the tool. Students had guidelines for creating content and using Facebook as a platform so they could
reach an audience and spread awareness. As students
began to do their research, their tasks were structured so they would not access Facebook until their
content was ready for the masses. Setting a timeline
helped both Heather and the students evaluate and
revise the quality of their content prior to posting on
Facebook. This quality assurance approach required
that students carefully considerd information before
11th Grade ELA Meme Project
Lesson Purpose: Understand character
development over time.
Ask your students to describe a member of the
Capulet family, and do not be surprised if they respond with a puzzled look. Now, ask your students
to describe Forever Alone, and do not be surprised
with the many examples they can access on their
phones and tablets in less than a minute. Forever
Alone is an Internet meme that students come across
multiple times a day (
memes/forever-alone). There are websites specifically designed to showcase the latest memes that are
a form of media representing an idea, style, or action
that spreads throughout a cultural community.
Memes are often referred to as cultural analogues
shared through writing, rituals, graphics, gestures,
and speech. Internet memes range from satire to inappropriate humor. Nevertheless, memes are generated by Internet users and shared within Internet
communities, and students typically share them
Since students spend a lot of time looking
through and re-sharing memes, 11th grade English
teacher Marisol Thayre wanted to take the opportunity to have students produce academic, purposeful,
conscious-oriented memes. She implemented the
use of memes in a unit on Romeo and Juliet, which
focused on helping students understand Shakespeare’s
text by providing them with multiple levels of engagement and support. While the text was read in class,
and audio clips were also analyzed in class, discussions and activities were integrated throughout the
unit to help students engage more deeply with the
Using the LMS to provide students with a group
Wiki project, Ms. Thayre asked her students to collaborate, participate, and contribute to their group
project. This Wiki project served as a platform for
students to develop their individual analysis of a character from Romeo and Juliet, and over time create a
visual and text based timeline demonstrating how
their character changed over the course of the play.
For the final component of their Wiki, students developed a meme that best represented their character. It was a very engaging and motivating component
because students were excited to generate their
There were, however, guidelines and requirements. Prior to students independently developing
a meme, the class reviewed the elements and characteristics of popular memes. With this analysis,
both the students and teacher were able to define
what it was that made each meme unique and special. The purpose of introducing a meme into this
unit was to help students understand complex
Shakespearean texts, but also to help them gain a
much clearer understanding of how to use web
technologies to produce and share quality media
content that was accessed throughout their
When Marisol began to think about how students would create memes, she looked at online
meme generators that could make it easier for students to put together an image of a character along
with text that would produce a literary meme. The
process is simple: you provide an image and text, and
the generator will produce an image that is formatted
in similar fashion as popular memes. The issue with
using a generator was that it could distract the students from the real purpose of this lesson. Marisol
wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and provide students the tools necessary to produce a meme
without using a generator. Marisol turned to Google
Draw, an easy to use online editing tool that was readily accessible to her class. Google Draw offered
Marisol’s class a canvas on which tools and features
Students Can Purposefully Create Information, Not Just Consume It
making a post that could potentially be read by everyone. Students are much more interconnected
now, but there is also the question of who is connected to them, and what kind of an impact their
interactions will make? In creating projects such as
this, students can learn about the impact that their
comments and interactions can have online, and
Heather’s Facebook project serves as an example of how social media can be used within a classroom. It is also an example of the ways in which
students can develop their understanding of the
impact and reach of social networking. Heather
structured this project carefully by designing how
and when students would use Facebook and what
information they would share. This was key in her
setting the expectation about the work they
would produce, as well as the time that would be
allotted to publish on Facebook. The use of
Facebook in her classroom was facilitated by her
scaffolding and purpose setting at the outset of the
5 8 (3 ) N OVEMBER 2014
could be used by students to put together their very
own memes.
Students accessed Google Draw through their
school Google accounts and chose to create a new
Google Draw document. They searched and then
imported an image that represented their character,
and added text to the top and bottom of their image.
Students were also required to provide a reflection
and statement text. Once completed, they saved their
meme, published it, and embedded it into their class
Memes take many shapes and forms. They could
be an image, a video, an action, or a combination of
both. More commonly, users generate memes that
combine an image and a caption. In most cases the
caption is not in context with the image; however,
the amusement can be the re-contextualization of the
combination of both. Marisol required student
memes to develop both a visual and textual representation of their assigned character.
12th Grade ELA Short Story Analysis Weebly
Lesson Purpose: Analyze and reflect on the
elements of a short story.
Similar to the meme project in 11th grade, 12th
grade English teacher John Goodwin wanted students to create something unique, inspired by their
creativity, and still address the purpose and their
understanding of a unit on short story analysis.
In the past years he had presented this unit by
reading and discussing a few model short stories
while discussing the characteristics of a short story.
Then he invited students to select one they found
personally appealing, review it in relationship to
the short story elements, and then participate in a
small group share out. While fairly straightforward,
John felt it was not a very engaging or creative experience for students. He decided he needed to
change this unit to better capture his students’ interest and further their understanding of short story
Knowing that he could use web technologies to
offer students this experience, he decided that he
could have students develop websites that represented
their short stories, present their analysis, and share
some reflections and insights that they genuinely experienced while exploring their selection. To facilitate this he reviewed Weebly (, an
online website creating services that offer users a
chance to create a Weebly for free.
He found that Weebly makes available many features that allow students to produce a website that
represents them creatively and also gives them a space
to present their understanding of the literature.
Sharing each other’s work was a great way for every
student to see and experience short stories from the
perspectives of their peers.
Creating a website using Weebly is a very easy
and straightforward process. It took Mr. Goodwin
and his students little prep time to set up and begin
to produce web content. Weebly is an online website editor and host that uses the What You See Is
What You Get (WYSIWYG) web design approach.
With WYSIWYG style web editors, users are required to know little to no web development
John’s students were able to craft their websites
by creating a Weebly account using their school
e-mail. He asked that they use their school e-mail so
that they could retrieve their login info in case they
forgot it. Having created a new account, the students
then gave their new website a name and choose a
theme. Weebly offers many themes that allow a user
to customize the look and feel of their site. For this
project, students were tasked with choosing a theme
that best represented their short story. In other
words, the visual elements and design of their website needed to create an experience that truly immersed a visitor into the story. With a name and a
theme in place, users then began to produce their
new website by dragging and dropping text box,
multimedia, and other web elements from Weebly’s
web editor menu list. Publishing a website is even
simpler. Weebly’s “Publish” button makes it easy for
students to update changes on their website and go
Empowering students with activities that include tools like Weebly can help them understand
the value and process in developing a product that
represents their knowledge in a visually engaging
Transformed Learning
Our students are no longer simply consuming information online, they are now producers of information.
Now that our students are finding themselves contributing to these online repositories, whether they know it
or not, the content they (re)share, (re)post, reply to,
Take advantage of popular social media
outlets, Facebook, Twitter by creating a
private Facebook page, or a unique hashtag
for your class to tag posts on Twitter. Use
these mediums that are popular with stuents
to open class dialogue beyond your classrooms walls. You can also also use K–12 tech
tools that can be used to create school only
social forums. Take, for example, Haiku
Learning. Haiku offers a free teacher account
that can be used to create an easy to use
online class. This class can be used only by
you and your students, and allows you to
create private social projects through Wikis.
Begin by creating a free account at, explore and navigate some of the great features Haiku offers.
When you’re ready, take a look at their help
menu to learn how to enroll students. A
simple and safe way to create a social experience for yours students in Haiku is by creating a Wiki Project. In a Wiki Project, students
can essentially create their own web page
within Haiku, where they can post text,
pictures, video, and links to other resources.
Students can collaborate on a single Wiki
Project, or create individual ones. They can
also interact and provide feedback by leaving
comments on each other ’s Wiki Projects.
Before you get started, keep the following in
1. Identify a lesson, and be very specific about its
2. Think about the possibilities that will add a social
media connection.
3. Walk through your social lesson from the teacher
and student perspective at least once before
going live.
4. Observe student interactions.
5. Collect feedback from students.
6. Share your social lesson with a colleague.
and update is virtually out of their control once they hit
the return key, or click the send button. It is for this
reason that we caution them to carefully consider a
message before sharing it.
As educators, we lead by example. We introduce
projects and activities that require students to utilize
their online social skills to better understand the purpose and use of each medium. We use our teaching
to help students transfer literacy skills onto the social
audience. Regardless of what system is used, we
structure instruction to ensure that there is an expected and understood quality to what is being
shared online. We provide instruction about using
the various technologies for different identifed
Through the use of purposeful instruction, the
same content that is taught in class can produce conversations online. By doing so, we help students
develop the vocabulary, language, deep thinking,
research, problem solving, and collaboration skills
necessary to go from passive consumers to well-informed, empowered information producers in today’s
Cormode, G., & Krishnamurthy, B. (2008 , June 02). Key differences between web 1.0 and web 2.0 . Retrieved from
ht t p://f /index.php /fm /article /view/
Forte, A., & Bruckman, A. (2009). Writing, citing, and participatory media: Wikis as learning environments in the high
school classroom. International Journal of Learning and
Media, 1(4), 23 – 44.
Rosen, L. D., Mark Carrier, L. I., & Cheever, N. A. (2013).
Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced taskswitching while studying. Computers in Human Behavior,
29 (3), 948 –958.
Cited Apps
YouTube: Video host and sharing site. (,
Vimeo: Alternative to YouTube. (,
Flickr: Photo host and sharing site. (
500px: Alternative to Flickr. (,
Facebook: Social networking site. (
Twitter: Microblogging social networking site. (http://twitter.
Show Me: Interactive whiteboard/screencasting iPad app. (http:// )
Show Me iTunes App Store link: (
KnowYourMemes: Informational database on memes. (http://
Google Draw: Online image editing tool used to create memes.
(, listed under “Create”)
UrTurn: Meme creation tool (
Weebly Website Creator (
Examples of the student work shared in this article can be
viewed at the following site : http://digitalgonzalez.weebly.
Students Can Purposefully Create Information, Not Just Consume It
Take Action
More to Explore
✓ Frey, N., Fisher, D., & Gonzalez, A. (June 2010 ). Literacy
2.0: Reading and writing in the 21st century.
Bloomington, IN : Solution Tree.
✓ Frey, N., Fisher, D., & Gonzalez, A. ( 2013 ). Teaching
with tablets, How do I integrate tablets with effective
instruction? Alexandria, VA : ASCD.
Curriculum resources:
✓ Common Sense Media offers great lesson resources for
teaching students about their digital identity and
5 8 (3 ) N OVEMBER 2014
✓ Lapp, D., Thayre, M., Wolsey, T. D., & Fisher, D. Arguments
Are Only as Credible as Their Sources June 2014 • doi:10.1598/
e-ssentials.8056 • © 2014 International Reading
✓ Lapp, D., Wolsey, T. D., & Ganz, P. I hadn’t thought of
that: Guidelines for providing online student feedback
that motivates students to learn. Rigorous Real-World
Teaching and Learning • Winter 2013 doi:10.1598/
Close Reading & Writing From Sources
isher and Frey have developed,
implemented, and refined a process for
teachers and students that results in
evidence becoming a signature part of
student work. Learn new ways to help
middle and high school students develop
the habits necessary to read closely, take
good notes, then analyze what they have
read from multiple sources and synthesize
information into effective discussion and,
ultimately, solid writing. Plus, QR codes
within the book link to videos of classroom
strategies in action, teacher ideas, and
chapter introductions from the authors!
Chapters in this
book focus on
• The Role of Evidence in
Reading, Writing, and
• Close Reading of Complex
• Preparing for Discussion
and Writing: Annotation,
Sourcing,and Avoiding
• Using Evidence in
• Writing From Sources
Hurry and Get Your Copy Today!
© 2014 | 168 pp.
ISBN 978-0-87207-158-2
Nonmembers $25.95
IRA Members $20.75
Me m
be rs
✓ Graphite is a great website that provides educator curated
reviews of apps and other web tools. This site also includes
“App Flows,” which are lesson plans created by teachers
that incorporate digital tools.
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