Using RSS Feeds in the Classroom

There is so much information on the the web, so it is nice to have a tool like Digg Reader that can bring it all to you.  I suppose that I have always known about RSS feeds but had never embraced or acknowledged it.  Well, now I am changed.  I have spent the last 3 days setting up subscriptions, reading articles, and watching videos.  All my interests in one place — Why would I not use this in the classroom?

When I first thought about utilizing RSS feeds in the classroom, my brain immediately went to the three courses that I have had the most experience teaching and, in turn, the three courses that I love teaching the most: English, Creative Writing, and Public Speaking.  How can RSS feeds enable or transform learning in these classes?  Outlined below are my thoughts.

English

Research papers are the bane of my existence.  I hated doing them as a student, and I hate assigning them as a teacher.  One of the main reasons that I feel so passionately against them is topic selection.  What 15-year-old boy is well versed on the subject of obesity or the pro-life/pro-choice conflict?  None that I have ever met or taught.  RSS feeds to save the day.  Using RSS feeds, students can subscribe to websites that will provide background knowledge and different viewpoints of a topic.  Students can choose a topic early, in preparation for the looming, evil that is a research paper, and build their background knowledge throughout the year.  This way, students can easily evaluate a source, chosen closer to assignment time, as to how it relates to the topic and works for their viewpoint.  For example, a student may be interested in alternative energy or fuel sources but not have a lot of background knowledge on the subject.  That student can subscribe to the U.S. Department of Energy website, other BBC News feed, or the Twitter feed of an advocate in order to understand the issues and viewpoints out there and to create their own.

Other exciting uses for RSS feeds in an English classroom include using online reviews, articles, and fiction as mentor texts.  Students can subscribe to sources like the New York Times Sunday Book Club or The New Yorker to read, review, and critique texts before completing their own assignments.  These sources also provide ideas for independent or summer reading assignments that are vital to success in the English classroom.

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Subscribe to sites like The New York Times for mentor texts.  Students can read, review, and critique book reviews.

Creative Writing  

Creative Writing can be difficult to teach, because, in my opinion, it is one of those things that is easier to do (to show) than to teach.  That being said, I like to use a lot of mentor texts in my Creative Writing classes.  Students can use RSS feeds to subscribe to sources full of mentor texts like Poetry 180.  Also, in my creative writing courses, I usually assign students to memorize a poem once a quarter to expose them to more poetry and force them to study other writer’s language and technique by vocalizing their words. (I’ve noticed that my creative writing students are usually very quiet.)

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Access to 180 poems?  What English teacher is going to say no?  Use RSS feeds to access the daily poem.  Creative Writing students can use this database to increase their understanding of poetry and writing.

RSS feeds can also help to build student vocabulary, which is very important in creative writing.  Students need to constantly be learning and using new words in order to understand their style and to avoid overused/clichéd words.  I like to have students create notebooks full of word lists (i.e. list 25 words you can use instead of “great”).  Initially, students find it tedious, but after a few lists, they begin to see their vocabularies strengthening and their creative writing benefitting from it.  Therefore, students can subscribe to Word of the Day sites like Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster.com to expand their vocabulary.

Public Speaking  

I would have never imagined making this next statement 5 years ago: I love teaching Public Speaking!  As a first year teacher, I was thrown into it without a textbook, a pacing guide, or a clue.  I personally struggled through Public Speaking in college because I am naturally quiet.  However, teaching Public Speaking has been one of the highlights of my career.  Most of my students feel the same way I did as a student toward public speaking; however, I include something in my Public Speaking course that my teachers did not — laughter.  Laughter naturally brings down inhibitions and nervousness that prevents students from feeling confident and comfortable in front of a group of their peers.  

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Ground control to Major Tom — Use RSS feeds to get some “out of this world” current events.  (Yeah, I managed to make David Bowie corny.  #winning)

One assignment that I do on a weekly basis is presenting a current event.  This weekly assignment helps students to feel natural at the front of the room with 20 sets of eyes staring at them. RSS feeds would work amazingly for this assignment.  Students could subscribe to news sources around the country and world, like The New York Times, National Geographic, BBC News, NASA podcasting, and more, to find their article to synthesize and present.  Using RSS feeds would also save me from listening to the same article from the local newspaper 10 times a week.  (I cannot tell you how many weeks I heard about the latest on Whitney Houston after her death in 2012.  Maddening!)  

Other Thoughts

As I continue through this program, I think about where I want this degree to take me.  My specialization is in Classroom Technology Integration, but I am also interested in School Technology Coordination.  On top of the previously outlined uses for RSS feeds in the classroom, I can see using them as a source of continuous professional development and conversation among a school faculty.  My experiences as a teacher at Russell County High School support this idea.  My colleagues in the English Department were constantly collaborating and sharing research/ideas to benefit our students and “spice” up our classrooms.  As I stated in the introduction, I have been obsessively reading my Digg Reader since I set it up, and I cannot help but think that I could use RSS feeds as a School Technology Coordinator to continuously develop fellow teachers.

 

Sources:

Information Avalanche Rescue: RSS Feeds in the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2016,

from http://eduscapes.com/sessions/rss/

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