I was recently interviewed by Tim Walker for an article in the NEA Today titled, “Students live in a Digital World. Are schools ready to join them?” I have had several requests asking me to share how I introduce Nings in my classroom.
Creating a Romeo and Juliet Ning with Students
Last school year, I used two different nings in my 9th grade English class. I created the first ning to engage students as they read Romeo and Juliet, and then I created another ning to accompany the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Before we began reading Romeo and Juliet, I discussed how a ning has a format similar to Facebook and told students that they would join the ning in character. I then modeled what I expected by joining the ning in character as The Bard. I wrote my responses to the profile questions as if I were Shakespeare joining the ning. I told my students that they would answer the same profile questions but from the perspective of their character (we drew names). I divided up the characters in Romeo and Juliet and then added a few extra main characters to cover all of the students in my class, so we had a Romeo 1, 2, and 3, for example. I gave my students a planning sheet to fill out as we began to read the play. Students connected with their character so much that my plan to listen to the play on CD went astray. Students wanted to read the parts of their character. I believe showing the students the ning before we began reading the play and modeling how to create The Bard profile page enticed students and inspired them to create worthy ning profile pages; I know it definitely kindled their interest in reading the play. Although we were almost finished with the play when we actually created the ning profile pages, we continued to post on the ning as we went back and closely read certain acts, and this greatly added to their overall understanding of the tragedy.
Creating a To Kill a Mockingbird Ning with Students
I decided to introduce the To Kill a Mockingbird Ning before we began reading the novel. I set up this ning differently by focusing on connecting outside literature, text, and videos to the novel. I used the event tab to write up assignments and due dates for posting to the ning. Students’ posts reflected their understanding of the universal themes presented in To Kill a Mockingbird and how those themes were connected to the other media introduced in class. Although this ning was introduced differently, it also engaged students because the ning guided their reading and provided a way for the students to digitally respond to the novel’s themes and further the discussions started in class.
Creating a ning for the entire 9th grade class
Ambitiously, our high school created an entire 9th grade class ning for this school year. Our lead 9th grade Keystone teacher, Tim Hall, wanted to add a technology element to Keystone that included all 9th grade students and teachers, so we created a Class of 2013 Ning. We are using the ning to connect 9th grade students with each other and their teachers as they transition to high school. This is our first year to use a ning with an entire class, and so far, in addition to using the ning as a communication tool, it is also allowing us to open discussions about posting responsibly on the web, introducing effective online discussions, and creating a positive web presence.
Where to start?
To create a ning, I first watched Steve Hargadon’s recorded webinar on Building a Ning from Scratch. Follow the link to the Ning in Education webpage and look under Highlighted Resources in the lower left corner. The Ning in Education is also a great community to join if you are looking for more resources and information about how to use a ning with students. I also belong to several other educator nings. If you are an English teacher, I recommend that you check out the English Companion Ning if you want to connect with other English teachers.
Other ning examples in the English Classroom