Friday, May 8, 2015

Teaching students to be curators of their own content

Quite a bit of what I read online are pieces that have been remixed and re-purposed.  It’s content that has been taken from various places on the web, then collected and organized, or “curated,” by someone other than the original author of that content.  It’s a form of composition that is definitely real-world, but until this year, it wasn't a format I had given much thought to inviting my students to write.  

Asking student writers to curate, though, is a worthwhile venture.

In addition to being an authentic, curation also has value because it gives students a chance to engage with web stuff differently than the passive-reader role we often ask them to take on.  When we invite our students to curate, they can speak back to and narrate the importance of what others have posted.  We enable them to view web content as a conversation where they can participate and invite others to listen in.

In the case of my class, the content that I planned to ask students to curate was their classmates’ work posted in a g+ community, titled Making STEAM, that we and several other schools use to share our STEAM focused “makes.” I wanted students to “round-up” collections of pieces that were unique, important, or spoke to them in some way, thus giving greater depth to what was happening in this online space.  Through writing and sharing round-ups, students' words would narrate unique stories of learning taking place, and conversely, student makers would see new significance to the content they posted by seeing it reflected and discussed by their classmates.

The challenge for me was figuring out how to teach curation as particular form of composition.  Like any other type of writing, it’s a form with a certain set of conventions.  I needed to familiarize my students with them and craft an assignment that contained enough parameters to guide but without the rigidity that could limit creativity and the myriad of exciting directions that this activity could take.

My plan went something like this:

Part 1: Inquiry into Round-Up (35 minutes)

I shared the following set of round-up posts with students, and assigned them each one to read. As they read, I asked them to think about what the writer is doing in this piece.


  The Weekly Round Up (from the Rhode Island Monthly Newsletter)

After reading, students met with others who read the same post and discuss:
  • What was the post about?
  • How was it organized?

Each group took a turn presenting their responses to these questions to the class, and students not in that group pulled up the post being discussed on their computers so that they could see the post the group was talking about.  Students could also share aspects that they noticed the group left out of their presentation.

After all groups presented and all students were exposed to all roundups, students got back into groups to discuss:
  • What did the round-ups have in common?
  • How were the round-ups different?
  • What sort of things happen in a round-up
  • What doesn’t happen in a round-up?

Share out and make a list on butcher paper of the last two bullets.  Below is a typed up version of what one of my classes came up with:

Round-ups do:
-explain what is being rounded up
-have a point, focus, or argument
-use stuff made by other people
-include text, images, tweets, videos
-have hyperlinks to sources used
Round-ups don’t:
-have random, disconnected stuff
-have long paragraphs
-use really formal language
-use really informal language
-contain spelling errors
-have outdated news

Part 2: Making STEAM Round-up Writing  (1-2 hours)

I explained to students that they would be creating their own round-ups, curating the content posted in our G+ community.  This assignment was about them telling the story of something important that they noticed happening in what people were doing and saying in the Making STEAM community. It was up to them to decide which posts they would select and what they would say about them.  

These were the requirements I gave them (the amount of artifacts and to include was something that we negotiated as a class):

Write a post that curates a collection of postings made in our G+community.
Should include:
  • 3-5 (5-7 if with a partner) posts from the Making STEAM community (screenshots and links)
  • Your commentary on those posts (what they have in common, what you find interesting about them, why they matter, etc)
Format: You decide--Google Slideshow, Google Doc, Prezi, Blog Post,  something else?
Publish your roundup on G+ Making STEAM community under the “Curation and Reflection” category.  Include a brief description of what your round-up is about and be sure to tag any students whose work you featured in it (type +their name).

I also shared this doc with them as a reference for the requirements of the assignment and a how-to of posting to g+


After two days of students mostly working by themselves, and sometimes with partners, most completed roundups and had them posted in our g+ space under the category of curation and reflection. As I had hoped, these round-ups took all sorts of directions (though most students chose to use the same tool (Google Slides) to create them.  
My next project is to round-up these round-ups, examining the sorts of things that students did through them.  Stay tuned….

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