Last night was the first meeting of my digital writing class. Generally, one of my goals for the first day of a class is to help the students get to know each other. Usually, I just have students introduce themselves–and sometimes I make a game of memorizing each other’s names . . . especially if the class is large and I know it will be challenging for students to get to know each other.
As I planned last night’s class, I remembered something I’d done in a session of NWP one year. The leaders of the session asked us to tag ourselves as if we were a blog post. On post-it notes, we identified important characteristics/passions that we had. And then we all walked around the room talking to each other. I knew this would be a great way for my class to explore the importance of good tags while participating in an icebreaker.
So last night we looked at a couple of blogs and how the writer created tags. We discussed how tags were useful in helping readers find entries relevant to their own interests and needs. When I felt we had explored the concept of tagging enough, I asked students to come up with their own tags, modeling by talking through tags that I might use “foodie,” “traveler,” “teacher.”
For the next 25 minutes, my students engaged in discussions that went deeper than they would have otherwise since they had something specific to talk about related to each other’s interests. I saw some animated conversations and I noticed that students really tried to expand their circles to introduce themselves to class members they didn’t know. This was especially important since there is a core group of students who already knew each other–and I wanted to ensure that a spirit of collaboration and openness characterizes the class. When I asked the class afterward what they had learned about each other, students remembered a great deal, even recalling the three breeds of one self-proclaimed “mother of 3 dogs.”
This type of activity reflects the research of James J. Asher using Total Physical Response (TPR) as a way of helping students learn languages. Although his theory focused on second language learning, researchers studying how to develop vocabulary in one’s native language have also identified TPR as one important method. My students are likely familiar with the idea of “tagging,” but this activity was one way to ensure that they will think more deeply when they start to tag their own blog posts.
Note: as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m teaching in a new classroom that turns the traditional arrangement on its head. You can see above, one of four large screens (one for each wall), a moveable small whiteboard (one of many so that small groups can use them), chairs and tables that move which allows for different arrangements depending on what the class will do on a particular day, and large panels with a photograph of campus (since the room doesn’t have windows). I’m really excited to teach in this room which will also allow me to project my iPad (with all its different apps) on the screens. Moreover, each screen can project something different: my computer, my iPad, the document camera. Very cool.
Now, what tags should I use for this post?