My first year teaching I remember learning a phrase that has shaped my teaching forever. No the phrase is not, “differentiated instruction” or “depth of knowledge”. Those would be way too professional.
One of my 7th graders, Gerald* used the phrase, “spicy memes.”
Gerald was a pretty laid back kid, the type of kid you would simply label a video gamer if you didn’t take the time to understand the true depth of his nerdiness.
Just about every day he would come in talking about some spicy meme he saw and how it was, “straight fire”.
Oh the joys of middle school.
I would shake my head and go about my day, but there has been no denying over the last ten years that memes have a cultural hold over all of us and it can be a bonding moment if the meme is understood on both ends.
By my third year of teaching I was occasionally showing memes that I found funny related to American history. The problem being, I often was the only one laughing.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that a history meme only makes sense if the kids are learning the history.
Laughing at history memes by yourself is not a lot of fun so I decided to do something radical: turning memes into a pre and post assessment. A new way of looking at data and student learning through silly, little pictures with captions.
Here’s what I do now.
I will take a meme like this-
And show it before we teach American Revolution. Some of the kids may understand it from prior knowledge and laugh or answer questions about what event it pertains to. I try to start off with something more common like the Boston Tea Party to hook them in.
As the memes go on, they will get a little tougher and more obscure and that’s where I say something totally brilliant like, “So these will be funnier later…” and I’m met with blank stares. It’s a good time.
Then I teach the unit as I usually would and I wait for the perfect opportunity to drop my dank memes again. Sidenote: I have learned dank means cool.
Once they are experts of the American Revolution, I show the memes again. Now, as long as I have done my job, this becomes a shared experience for all of us. One that they might only understand on a surface level.
As one of my students said last year, “So Miss Stewart, basically the only reason to learn history is to understand memes?”
“Yes. That is it.”
And we both knew it was more than that, but it’s the understanding. To hear a history joke on a commercial, TV show or yes, even meme and get it. Not to remember every single date or every single person of history, but an interest in the subject and I hope that they would become lifelong learners.
Here’s the really fun part, now they share funny history memes with me. Which basically just tells me my job here is done.
Even more, it shows they are listening and engaged with American history and if it takes a meme to do that, then that’s what it takes.