September 25, 2019
Arren Swift

As we try to find ways to expand the use of engaging and effective formative assessments in secondary Social Studies classes, we should consider the use of social media. Formative assessments provide engaging and authentic opportunities for students to enhance their mastery of the content, while allowing for creativity and self-expression. Snapchat is an app that allows users to share photos, videos, and messages. These features make Snapchat an effective formative assessment tool.

Educators can be apprehensive when considering the use of social media in their classrooms due to the ethical concerns that arise from misuse of the technologies. They must be aware of issues (such as jealousy, depression, and the sharing of explicit images and videos) that can arise with the use of social media. While administrators offer reasonable justifications for limiting social media in schools (e.g., Children’s Internet Protection Act, parental concerns, cyberbullying, distraction, privacy issues, obscene or harmful content), these very issues justify the need for students and teachers to explore social media with the goal of becoming responsible digital citizens (Carpenter & Krutka, 2015; Ribble, 2012). The majority of school policies related to social media still focus on what students should not do with these technologies, but we are slowly beginning to see students and teachers explore what they can do (Krutka & Carpenter, 2016).

Snapchat allows students the freedom to use multiple methods to communicate an idea. Students can capture a 10-second clip where they act out an idea or concept. They can use photography to prove knowledge acquisition. Students can also use the Photovoice technique, the process of using photographs as a data collection tool with the goal to elicit narratives (Wang, Coemans, Siegesmund, & Hannes, 2017). A student’s image and narrative is a powerful tool to examine their lived experience (Behrendt, 2014). Another method a student can use to demonstrate mastery is to draw something and take a picture of it or draw on top of an image they found. Through multiple methods, Snapchat enhances student communication and can lead to mastery learning.

To understand the procedures of using social media in the classroom, it may be helpful to see the framework of an actual lesson. This lesson will focus on the Bill of Rights, a required topic for all levels of the American Government courses. Students begin by reading a brief description of the history of the Bill of Rights (the reading assignment can be found here at the Bill of Rights Institute). Then students compose an image that demonstrates their understanding of each amendment. Students can work in small groups to accomplish the task, and group work makes it easier for the students to use visual arts to demonstrate mastery of the concepts.

Before students post their images, they need to submit copies of their images to the teacher—either via email or by showing them on their phone. Once approved, students can post their images to Snapchat. Create a geographical location for your classroom so students can post their images to the location’s story. The location can be created in seconds, and does not require the teacher to have access to student social media accounts or vice versa. After the images are posted, have students view the story and review each other’s work. Student curiosity and creativity encourages the class to review the work of others while reinforcing the content of the lesson.

As an example of this lesson in action, one student combined clip art, text, and a picture they took to illustrate the Fourth Amendment. The teacher proceeded to ask clarifying questions about what was going on in the picture, such as “Can you explain how this story relates to the Fourth Amendment?” The opportunity for follow-up questions allowed students to communicate a deeper understanding of the content.

With an increased focus on effective formative assessments, teachers can utilize Snapchat to conduct mastery learning. Students who are required to demonstrate the understanding of concepts through arts-based presentation methods will provide their teachers with rich descriptive data showing whether the student has met the learning goal. Increased frequency and effectiveness of formative assessments used in classrooms can lead to a high-quality educational experience for each student. Snapchat provides an opportunity to assess student understanding, while also giving the student an opportunity to engage in an activity they enjoy.


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Aaren Swift

Arren Swift has 11 years of experience teaching high school Social Studies, including five years in AP U.S. History. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a focus on Social Studies, and was an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida, teaching secondary Social Studies methods courses. In 2019, he was appointed to a professorship at Sam Houston State University in the department of Teaching and Learning.

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