Lori Napier

"Facebooking the bard": Social media to better understand literary classics

Meet Portia. She’s a “strong, noble born Roman woman, wife to Brutus.” Her hobbies include attending chariot races, going to the theater, and watching gladiatorial matches. She was born on October 14, 69 BC. And she’s on Facebook.

Welcome to the world of “Facebooking the bard.” Dreamed up by facilitating teacher Lori Napier and tenth grade English teacher, Pamela Pruett, of High School in Columbia, TN, the project came to life in the Spring of 2010 with the help of a $5,000 Student Achievement Grant from the NEA Foundation.

To encourage students to use critical thinking skills to better understand how Shakespeare developed his characters, Pruett asked each of her sophomore honors students to choose a character from "Julius Caesar" and to create a social network page to flesh out the character’s personality. To add to this experience, students were also instructed to place their characters in a contemporary setting.

“By having the students put the characters in a more modern situation, the students had to go beyond just basic knowledge about the characters,” Napier explained. “The students had to apply more rigorous analysis to decide what the characters might do or say to an audience of ‘peers’ on the social networking site.”

In addition to encouraging students to think more critically about their characters, the creation of social media pages required students to make creative use of technology for publishing their writing. While creating their pages, students demonstrated knowledge of how graphic design elements can be used to illustrate distinctive character traits. Napier said, “One of the students incorporated the color purple in his profile of Julius Caesar an account of purple being a royal color; another student chose an Impressionistic painting as her background for the Soothsayer’s profile since the painting had a mysterious appearance, not unlike the character.”

The project has strengthened the overall curriculum by integrating elements across subject areas. And it is a hit with students. Through end-of-year evaluation forms, students responded that they liked the project because it allowed them to bring real-world aspects to a 400 year old play by using technology in a new way. By immersing themselves in the play, students were challenged to think of their characters in a modern light and more deeply examine the reasoning behind their actions. This research called for students to truly understand the play through multiple readings, which, according to Napier, “was a delight to the teachers!”

The success of the program has caught the attention of other educators in the school and community. Several teachers at High School are considering using this idea in their classrooms. One even used some of her planning time to observe student presentations of their social network pages. The Maury County Public Library Shakespeare Club plans to use the student-made profiles with its members, and the posters will be on display in the library.

Impressively, students covered state curriculum standards in language, writing, research, logic, communication, media, and literature. Linking social networking with language arts lessons has proved to be a resounding success for both the students and educators involved. “The project provided a vehicle for students to exhibit their depth of knowledge on the chosen character and the play as a whole,” said Pruett. “Students found their way around a few speed bumps regarding access to technology by simply using their creative and artistic abilities.” Adds Napier, “the entire school system has benefited from this project.”

So, the next time you’re on Facebook and you get friend requests from Romeo, Macbeth, and Hamlet, don’t be surprised; it’s simply a sign that a group of students are excited to be learning about Shakespeare.