As I was walking my second graders to music last week, a fourth grade teacher’s bulletin board caught my attention. I couldn’t wait to pop in her room to ask her more about her teaching process regarding the student work I saw displayed. Luckily, on my way back from dropping my students off at their music class, Mrs. Tweed was available.
Mrs. Tweed teaches with me at Brookside Lower School. Our elementary school is part of a larger campus, Cranbrook Educational Community. Though our campus is large, we do our best to stay connected not only within our buildings, but also with other teaching professionals across the state, country, and globe. Social media tools such as Twitter help us to connect and share ideas. Even though many of the elementary teachers work directly down the hall from one another, we stay busy throughout the day with our own students and our own grade levels. While everyone does their best to collaborate across each grade level, there is never enough time to do as much sharing and connecting as we’d like each day.
Several of our faculty members are active on a variety of social media sites on a professional level. I’m sure many of them may also have personal accounts, but I’m more interested in learning from them since they all are such a wealth of knowledge and have amazing resources to share. Some of the best talent is often in our own backyards:
Last week I saw several images posted to Instagram from one of our first grade teachers. She wasn’t snapping photos of students, but rather bulletin board examples and projects on display. After viewing her pictures, I had to check out her room to ask more about the work the kids were doing.
Our second grade team has a collaborative Pinterest board where we all pin resources. This makes it easy when we come together to plan for upcoming units.
I’ve become very good friends with two of the teachers at our middle school since we all join live Twitter chats on a weekly basis. This time during the evening allows us to be with our families, but also to share our ideas with one another in a meaningful discussion.
Mrs. Tweed is only one of our faculty members embracing the integration of technology into her practice and sharing her ideas on social media sites.
When I walked into Mrs. Tweed’s room during my prep time, we began discussing the idea that launched her creative bulletin board. She began by telling me how invested the fourth graders were in their independent books they were reading during reading workshop. As a class, they began talking about what was “hooking them” into their new stories. The children shared such colorful dialogue about the craft of their author’s writing that she knew she had to take advantage of this teachable moment.
Mrs. Tweed pulled up her personal Twitter account that she uses professionally and explained to her students why and how she uses this tool. She shared how she tweets about great books she’s reading so that others can find out about the story she’s enjoying. Of course the children thought they were all familiar with Twitter, but as she began touring the site and creating tweets, the students began to make natural observations and share new information they were learning. Mrs. Tweed told me that one of the most surprising discoveries was that the students were unaware that a tweet was limited to 140 characters. This is when she decided to offer a challenge to her students.
Each child was asked to compose a tweet to share about their independent reading book. The idea was to try and “hook their audience.” The class was excited and ready to begin. They didn’t see this as an assignment but rather a challenge. Could they compose a persuasive enough tweet within the limited number of characters that would compel a peer to pick up the book and start reading?
Because this was Mrs. Tweed’s first attempt with this sort of activity, she made it simple. (I like this idea. Simple is good, especially when you’re just getting familiar with a new type of activity.) She had her students mention the book/author by first putting the @ sign followed by the title of the book (no spaces). She didn’t go through to verify whether each book actually had a Twitter handle or not . . . this was just to keep a structure for the assignment and to let those passing by in the hall know which book the child was referring to in their tweet.
The students had to compose a tweet of 140 characters to try and hook their peers. For this assignment, the children did no have to include the book title as a part of their 140 characters. This gave students more room for their thoughts and leveled the field since some titles were much longer than others. She did explain that in a live tweet, all characters matter. The class had a great time revising their work and trying more effective vocabulary and different styles of leads. Mrs. Tweed said that she was so proud of the amount of revision the students were doing for just 140 characters. They cared about their word choice. Their voice mattered.
When I asked Mrs. Tweed if I could share her idea and her student’s work, she was graciously willing to sit with me and explain her teaching process so that I could share it with a wider audience. What I love most about her project is that it wasn’t included in her weekly lesson plans. This was a moment where she drifted from her daily plans and allowed the student’s discussion to guide her creative thinking. I admire that Mrs. Tweed didn’t put her idea off until another day or worry about bringing social media into the classroom. I also admire her courage to try something new. She shared with me her own insecurities with social media and how she’s really embracing it but still considers herself a learner. I think this is such a strong statement for so many of us who may fear taking that leap and trying something new.
While Mrs. Tweed didn’t rush out and set up a class Twitter account and have her kids begin live tweeting with the world, she did introduce a valuable tool to the class. She got their feet wet in understanding how social media works. I appreciate how she did this in a meaningful way. There was a strong academic connection but with a purpose. People do care about great book suggestions. She didn’t share how she personally tweets, but rather how what she personally tweets has a professional purpose. Students were able to see a positive role model using social media in an appropriate manner.
Last year my students did an analogue Instagram activity on character development. We imagined what our characters would post on Instagram and wrote replies as other characters within the story. It was a lot of fun. You can click here for the freebie printables to do your own Instagram bulletin board.
My dear friend Lindsay (and a fellow Scholastic Top Teaching blogger!) also shared a fabulous post on how to do a Pinterest bulletin board. You can click here to see her post and read how she created one with her students.
One of the biggest takeaways for me with this task was that it introduced social media in an educational setting. The more baby steps we take, the more naturally social media will fit into our academic lives. The more we model proper use, the more people will properly use the tool.
Social media is not going away. Students will not stop using it. There will always be those cases where it is misused. Whether we prevent the use of it in schools or not, those misuses will still exist. The more we understand about it, the more we can help support it in a positive way. People often fear what they don’t understand.
For me, the positives have too much of an impact to be ignored and not embraced. If we are truly preparing our children for a career-ready world, what are the tools we are allowing them to use?
If you’d like to learn more about Twitter, I’ve created a 10-minute tutorial that demonstrates everything from “Twitter Vocabulary” to “Composing and Sending a Tweet” to “Creating Lists within Twitter.”
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