Sometimes social media can be seen as a distraction in the classroom. However, Upper School English educator Amy Parish, Ph.D., believes that social media can be an engaging learning tool with the right curation. Her students in AP English Language and Composition used Twitter to interact with award-winning author T.C. Boyle for the fourth year in an event called Tweetfest (or, as Boyle dubbed it, Tweetorama).
After reading and discussing Boyle’s novel Tortilla Curtain in class, Dr. Parish invited Boyle to participate in Tweetfest to connect the students with the author. Since most students had never been on Twitter, they created accounts and gathered questions, memes, gifs and hashtags to prepare for the event. They also tested their tweeting skills by sending messages to their favorite authors and reveled in the excitement when several of them replied.
The Upper Schoolers found Boyle to be humorous and cagey in his answers. When asked about interpretations of his writing, he didn’t give a straight answer, saying “that is for you to decide,” allowing his readers to draw their own conclusions instead. For example, when asked about the significance of a gum wrapper, he replied, “Whatever you make of it. The author can never offer explanations, which might unduly influence interpretation.”
Boyle responded to almost 130 of the students' tweets during the hour-long event, including memes and gifs in reference to his book, which would not be as effective in a different format like Zoom or email or in-person. The event was fast-paced, and everyone tweeted simultaneously. Students also interacted with each other by writing supportive comments. Beyond merely liking a photo or post, the students applied their knowledge of the book and found trending memes or gifs to invoke humor and form a connection.
In a follow-up email to Dr. Parish, Boyle shared, “Tremendous fun as always. They are brilliant. And very witty.”
The multifaceted lesson also included students breaking into groups and writing papers on their experience together. Then they participated in an editing workshop where guest speakers (including a college professor, an LJCDS alumna and a journalist) were invited to read the summaries and provide students with feedback and answer their questions. Students also individually wrote a reflection on both the Tweetfest and the editing workshop.
Grace Karmazin-Schneider ’21: “I think the Twitter assignment was an interesting project in that it was so far from a regular essay that we normally complete. I think that part of the reason I really enjoy this class is because we write creatively, without an exact structure, and treat our writing as art. It was refreshing to treat modern literature in a new way: mainly through humor and unconventional assignments that were enjoyable because of how new and fresh they were. I enjoyed the project and felt that I stretched myself creatively in a new writing medium and style, growing as a writer and student.”
Ashley Lee ’21
: “I was surprised at how receptive Mr. Boyle was to our tweets and how he put lots of effort and attention into trying to answer our tweets in his own spectacularly unique way. I’m glad and grateful that he was willing to spend so much time interacting with us. What I also think I wasn’t expecting the day of was how much interaction I would get to have with my fellow classmates on their Twitter feeds. I had never really used or thought of Twitter as a frontrunner of social media, but seeing the way it was used that day to connect a bunch of students with an author with tweets of gifs, deep questions, and various other jokes made me realize how social media can be used effectively in all kinds of ways.”