Post date: Jan 21, 2013 9:24:15 PM

5. RSS as SSR


“Get your phones out and read your RSS feeder for 10 minutes!” This phrase has become quite popular in my classroom lately. The students have even begun asking for it at the beginning of class.

The Why:

I instituted RSS time 2-3 times a week for about ten minutes at the beginning of class after reading Troy Hicks’s The Digital Writing Workshop. Hicks suggests using RSS time as an opportunity for students to find topics that will inspire their writing. While it’s true, they are definitely inspired and they love to talk and write about what they read, it’s easy to find many more uses for RSS time!

Standards: An overriding theme in The Framework for 21st Century Learning, ISTE.NETS, 2011 Horizon Report, and, yes, the Common Core Standards is to teach students how to access and organize information quickly and efficiently. Students have access to overwhelming amounts of information at their fingertips. It’s becoming our job to teach them how to find and use this information on their terms.

RSS Feeds provide an essential tool in managing and organizing this mountain of information.

The What:

Students can access a feed reader with most smart phones. I suggested students use Pulse because it was one that I was already familiar with. Pulse allows them to select various feeds from news sources and magazines. It also allows them access to any feed from readers such as Google Reader so they can bring in any site (including blogs) from the web. Every time students open Pulse it automatically updates the feeds with up-to-the-minute changes for their reading pleasure.

The How:

The process to institute RSS time took about twenty minutes total. I asked students to download Pulse on to their phones from the various app stores they use (it is a free app). Students who don’t have smart phones use the class set of iPods (purchased with EETT grant money). They quickly created accounts and then took about ten minutes browsing for the sites they wanted to use in their readers (Pulse provides a search function and a list of “packages” based on interests).

I was surprised at some of the choices: Wall Street Journal (most of them are in Econ) and USA Today. I recommended a couple of sites: Wired Magazine and Mashable. Of course many of them felt compelled to add in sites like TMZ- which was fine with me.

Day 1 was super easy.

Day 2 was the day I needed to set parameters. No Texting. No Games. No Facebook.

Days 3- present (about a month overall): You can hear a pin drop during RSS time.

Ideas for Taking RSS Time Beyond SSR Time:

One idea Hicks gives (I’ll be trying it next week): Have students post drafts of essays and blogs on sites with an RSS feed and ask everyone to join. Students can read drafts of others and provide feedback in the comments section. I use PBWorks- students are subscribing to the feed for the site and their RSS readers will be updated every time someone or a group posts something new.

Another use for the site is to ask students to use some of their feeds for class-related websites. For instance, my students are currently working on an historical fiction narrative. I required that they subscribe to a site that has information about the historical event they are writing about for inspiration and up-to-date information.

A final use (there are many more) for RSS feeds is to teach organization by combining the site with another such as Evernote (click here for a write-up of Evernote). If they find an interesting article that they want to file away, they can email the article to their Evernote account with @foldername and #anyhashtag in the subject line. Evernote will automatically file the article in the appropriate folder and assign those hashtags to the article.

It works for teachers: you can read along with them or use it as a filler if you need ten minutes before getting started.

It works for students: they are reading and, by giving them the choice about what to read, they are enjoying their reading time.