In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.
When I first arrived at P.S. 154x in the South Bronx for my City Year year of service, I hoped I would have the opportunity to teach my students about creative writing. I was an English major in college, and I focused my studies on creative non-fiction writing. Having the creative outlet in my academic studies was an enriching experience. Even though the creative work still came with deadlines, homework, and many hours spent in the library, I always felt invigorated when I was creating something that was my own. I never minded the work.
During the school day here at P.S. 154x, students practice writing five paragraph essays and responses to literary passages to help them prepare for the state test. However, there is not a lot of room in the schedule for creative writing.
When my team changed the structure of our after-school program to allow time for enrichment clubs, I knew I wanted to run a creative writing club. In my fifth grade Englins Language Arts classroom it is often a struggle to get the students excited about reading, so I knew it wouldn't be easy to get after school students, especially the older students, enthusiastic about creative writing. To them, the club sounded like an extension of the school day and not a fun, creative space to learn how to write stories and engage in literacy.
Indeed, the creative writing club had fewer kids signing up than the other more recreational options such as gym or dance. Then, one of my teammates had an idea for a lesson plan that could engage more students: using Twitter as a platform to post the students' writing. He created a Twitter account for the creative writing club, and wrote a lesson plan that would teach our students what Twitter is, how to write a tweet, and how people have used Twitter as a platform to publish creative work.
We ran the lesson with the group of students who signed up for the club that day. When we pulled up our Twitter feed on the SmartBoard, the students were excited and eager to hear about the day's activity. We explained how to write a tweet, what a character means, and how to meet the 140 character limit. We encouraged students to write tweets about anything and suggested that they try to fit a short story into a single tweet for more of a challenge. The students quickly got to work drafting tweets in their notebooks. When they finished composing, they brought their notebooks to me and I typed their writing into Twitter on my laptop. The students could then see their tweets being tweeted on the SmartBoard, which was exciting for the whole class.
The students' tweets ranged from very funny to more serious and poetic. I was so impressed with the students' creativity and their enthusiasm for writing. As soon as they each posted their first tweet they quickly moved on to writing their next one. Using the popular social media platform inspired our students to embrace their creativity and improve their literacy.
After we finished our clubs for the day, word spread amongst the students in our after-school program that we used Twitter in our lesson, and students were approaching me asking to join the creative writing club so they could learn about Twitter. My students couldn't wait to explore creative writing as a recreational activity.
Since then, the students who consecutively attend the creative writing club have shown improvements in their writing. It's more inventive and detailed and they're putting more of an effort into their work because they know they have the opportunity to showcase it and be praised for it through Twitter. All they needed was a little creative motivation.