Fake social media pages as an alternative to plot quizzes
Throughout my middle, high school, and college years, it was common to come into a classroom and face a “reading check” quiz. I dreaded these fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice tests because, although I (nearly) always read the assigned book, the questions seemed to be out to trick me. After all, my teachers had to make the questions hard enough to stump my Sparknote loving peers. I would spend hours jotting down notes on the smallest plot-points rather than falling into the flow of reading and feeling the tone and voice of the work. The tests made my teachers seem inauthentic when, during textual analysis, they would say “don’t summarize the plot” or “there’s no one correct answer.” Why were they making me memorize every plot point if it was unwanted in my analysis papers? Why would they expect me to believe “all reading is interpretation” when, just ten minutes before, I lost two points for forgetting the name of the protagonist’s street?
Teachers do need methods for encouraging their students to read the assigned texts and checking that their encouragement was sufficient. However, as Toshalis (2015) notes, summative assessments should be “positive opportunities to show what students know rather than stress-inducing exercises the catch their mistakes” (p. 103). For instance, students can create fake social media pages for characters to show the teacher they understand the novel’s plot, characters, and tone.
I first came across Fakebook when I had to use it to make this profile for my Technology for Teaching and Learning class. I’ll admit, in the beginning, I was not impressed with the activity. The tool has an outdated interface and look, which bothered me as I like to create a polished output. Likewise, I have always felt like plot-focused assignments are overused in the English classrooms when students could instead be practicing close reading and analysis. However, the more I used the tool, the more I saw the benefit of asking students to make some record of settings, plot, and character relationships. Especially with a book that has a lot of characters and moves through many spaces, these “plot artifacts” can help students brainstorm answers to critical discussion questions or determine what parts of the text they want to analyze. I found myself checking my “Fakebook” when I was creating a lesson plan around Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. We all need a little summary sometimes.
In the classroom, I recommend teachers use a more relevant social media site for these projects or let their students choose what platform they will complete them on. I also suggest using templates that students can complete digitally or physically to accommodate those who do not have internet access or computing devices. Finally, I advise teachers to reflect on what books are appropriate for these types of projects. These activities are mini-simulations and, while not physical, run the risk of oversimplifying history and power dynamics and creating trauma when we ask students to do things like imagine and then write as though they are a slave, slave owner, Holocaust victim, etc. This article on “Teaching Tolerance” poses some great questions.