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Curriculum Update

Making a selfie teaches students to write and reflect

Selfies in video and photo form are making their way into K12 classrooms
  • LEARNING WITH SELFIES—Video selfies help students at Stratham Memorial School in Exeter better understand a story’s characters and how those characters resolve problems.
  • SHORT MOVIES IN A BOX—Like Redbox kiosks that deliver movies for a fee, the Readbox at Stratham Memorial School in Exeter has selfie videos of each student in Amy Riley’s class describing books they’ve read.

In a classroom in New Hampshire, second-graders pull out iPads to film themselves discussing the characters of a book they are reading.

Such video selfies increase students’ understanding of the story’s characters and how those characters resolve problems, says Amy Riley, who teaches at Stratham Memorial School in School Administrative Unit 16 in Exeter.

“The selfie helps them add more detail about the reading passage and helps them reflect that in their writing,” Riley says. “They enrich their writing as they talk about it.”

Selfies, in both video and photo form, are making their way into K12 classrooms, says Cynthia Merrill, a former classroom teacher who now consults with districts that are creating their own “selfie centers.”

The centers give teachers an activity to encourage reflection and understanding, and create social opportunities for learning. Comprehension deepens when students can view themselves and then share their ideas with classmates, Merrill says.

In Riley’s class, for example, students learn to write with more detail about characters such as Harry in the Horrible Harry book series by Suzy Kline.

“When students go back to watch their selfies and then write about their reading, their thinking is already captured in their selfies, which allows them to recall more of their ideas and add even more detail to their writing projects,” Riley adds.

Students upload their videos and photos to an app called See Saw, where they can be viewed by classmates, teachers and parents.

On the other side of the country, at Konocti Education Center in Konocti USD in northern California, high school English teacher Robin Fogel-Shrive also had her students take selfies for writing lessons.

The photos were a springboard for students to dive into the lesson that included reading two news stories about the selfie phenomenon and writing responses to prompts about the popularity of selfies, why they’re appealing and what they say about people.

“We’re asking them to read difficult text and write about it. I thought taking selfies was a great way to bridge the discussion of reading and writing,” says Fogel-Shrive, now a teacher at another high school at Konocti USD. “Selfies are part of their social world. Everyone would have something to say about it.”

The selfies aren’t narcissistic, as some might think, but a valid form of self-expression that lets students choose how they want the world to see them, Fogel-Shrive says.

Clive Thompson, a technology journalist and author of the book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, says that Fogel-Shrive’s selfies powerfully integrate aspects of modern life with traditional writing. It combines “visual culture with textual culture,” he says.

Blending literacies

The idea of using nonfiction newspaper articles to teach students about the selfie phenomenon is brilliant, says William Kist, a professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum studies at Kent State University.

“We have decades of research that shows reading and writing scores go up when kids have meaningful, authentic things to read and write about,” he adds.


Managing editor Angela Pascopella contributed to this story. Emily Rogan is a freelance writer in New York.