The selfie. Immediate groans from my veteran teachers…nervous excitement from my young, pre-service teachers.
We started off the class talking about the social practices of taking a selfie. Who takes them? Why do people take them? What is the intent behind particular types of selfies? How are selfies “read” by other people? How are gender and sexuality performed and “read” via selfies? How do the answers to these questions shift from social media space to social media space, from group to group? What are academics, social media folks, and popular news sources saying about the selfie? Does a selfie communicate something real or manufactured about the person? What does a selfie communicate about a person’s state of mind? (Hold on to these last two questions.)
Then, with a simple Google image search (with the SafeSearch filter on) we looked at selfies. What’s going on with the people taking the selfies? What does camera angle (high, straight on, low) communicate and how does it position your viewer? What does eye gaze, posture, and facial expression communicate?
Next we took selfies in class. The young, pre-service teachers were excited. The veteran teachers were grumpy and started giving me the stink eye. Some folks took a selfie for the first time; others dipped into the vastness of selfies within their photo galleries to select one to share. As we shared them, we asked the person in the photo to be silent as the class “read” the image and offered an explanation in relationship to all that we had discussed about the social practices of taking a selfie. At the end of each of these selfie sharing rounds, the photographer had an opportunity to explain the intent behind the selfie. Sometimes the intent and the way the selfie was being read were related, other times not.
I then introduced a particular young man who is very concerned about how people are reading him and whose state of mind is questioned and debated at length: Hamlet. What if Hamlet took selfies? What would be his intent? What would they communicate? Would he share them on social media?
The last part of this selfie activity involved teachers selecting a passage from Hamlet (ones that I had pre-selected), considering the context of the scene (who is there, what is going on, what has transpired up until this point), and annotating the text with a #hamletselfie to share on Twitter. This activity combined the literacy practices we typically associate with literary analysis with the social practices of taking a selfie. I encouraged the teachers to scour YouTube for versions of Hamlet and other Hamlet-selfie images/videos to consider how these productions portrayed the particular moment they were investigating. I also encouraged them to think about camera angle, gaze, posture, and facial expression (we agreed no duck faces for Hamlet).
The sharing part of this work involved posting the selfie on Twitter with the hashtag #hamletselfie (more forthcoming) and leading the class in a conversation about how the selfie attempted to capture a particular state of mind and/or performed identity.
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
and indeed, it goes so
heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth,
seems to me a sterile promontory;
This activity took place in a class titled “Topics in Literature” that is part of the MAT & MEd programs in English Education at KSU. Using Jenkins & Kelley’s (2013) book about reading in participatory culture as our central text (along with the companion website Flows of Reading & Teachers’ Strategy Guides) we are considering how we can evolve the teaching of literature in ways that take up literacy practices validated by school through leveraging participatory social practices adolescents enact (or can potentially enact) across contexts and digital spaces.
We are just getting started with grappling with participatory culture and working through the many constraints teachers face in their classrooms. However, we think activities like the #hamletselfie as an interpretive act of remix and annotation leverages both the school-sanctioned literacy practices related to literary interpretation and the social practices related to communicating and performing identities via digital and social media. We think adolescents can get to know Hamlet in a way that helps them reconsider how people are reading (and potentially pathologizing) their own “antic dispositions.”
UPDATE: We thought for the assessment students could consider their intended meaning/interpretation compared to the one constructed by the class (with an opportunity to take a new selfie based on that feedback). We’re really interested in learning if any students’ own selfie practices would shift as a result of thinking through these issues.
Jenkins, H., & Kelley, W. (Eds.). (2013). Reading in a participatory culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.