By Nicole Long
Change. Not an uncommon word in a 21st century classroom.
Three years ago, change became a permanent fixture in my teaching philosophy. I had stalled. Feeling overwhelmed and unenthusiastic, I was desperate for something new to reignite my passion for teaching. It happened, not unsurprisingly, in the middle of the school day, and it came straight from the mind of one of my former twelfth graders.
“You should get a Twitter.”
This simple statement evolved into a group discussion as to why I needed a Twitter account. Regardless of their motives, some genuine and some pure teenage curiosity, this brief teachable moment has since transformed my experience in the classroom and my investment in professional learning.
When I first entered the Twitter-sphere, I relied on sites like Twitter4Teachers to get started. I learned the lingo, pacified my old-school Language Arts instincts and made peace with Tweet-speech, and searched hashtags and usernames (see Edudemic’s Guide to Twitter for Teachers) to connect with as many fellow educators as possible. Driven at first by curiosity, and then fueled by inspiration, I felt compelled to explore further what I had clearly been missing out on—I had no idea just how much that was.
“Driven at first by curiosity, and then fueled by inspiration, I felt compelled to explore further what I had clearly been missing out on—I had no idea just how much that was.”
Administrators, specialists, teachers, students and parents are all tweeting, sharing lessons, inspiration, resources and snapshots of daily accomplishments. There are more than 300 trending educational hashtags that keep educators connected across the globe. A simple Google search will provide hundreds of resources and connections for teachers, suggesting that Twitter has become its own advantageous professional learning network.
To me, I almost felt slighted that my students hadn’t suggested I get on board the Twitter-train sooner. However, like many other classroom teachers, the rapid rise of social media and its role in the classroom had left me feeling insecure; I was still learning my own personal boundaries with letting it into my professional world. As with most great lessons, the results far outweighed the risk, and in time I listened to my students, learned from experience, and welcomed this new technology into my classroom.
Creating a Twitter account is easy, and free. The most difficult part is deciding on a username. In the classroom, this isn’t as simple as one would think. First, your username has to be available. Second, it has to be something the students will remember and can easily search for. Regardless of your account name, simply having a Twitter account for your students to follow sparks a reaction—they can’t resist the idea that they’re somehow getting a secret glimpse into your personal life, meanwhile you’re filling their social feeds with classwork, reminders and updates related to the school day. Again, proving my risky investment worthwhile.
Once I became comfortable with Twitter, I began encouraging students to ask me questions online outside of school hours. I also crafted a unique hashtag for our classroom so students could search related items and share their own accomplishments, ideas or examples.
Still, I thought, there must be a way to share more! I was already using Evernote to type my daily lesson plans, but now I could make use of the share feature and publish my notes directly to my Twitter feed. These simple improvements allowed students to access our classroom any time of day, whether they were absent or just needed a review.
Making it Work for Students
Feeling confident with using Twitter outside the classroom, I began wondering how to take advantage of Twitter inside my classroom. How could it inspire my students in the same way it inspired me?
“The result was a rich classroom discussion that spanned across different days and class periods.”
I created a separate class account and gave my students the username and password. I began referencing it in our daily class discussions. I taught my students about style and simplicity, and how to pull in web resources and use hashtags. The result was a rich classroom discussion that spanned across different days and class periods.
It also changed our reading process—students were asking their own questions and answering them together while they were working. Instead of stopping and waiting on the teacher, I would stream the conversation on our projector so students could use their personal or school devices to interact in real time.
Connecting with Parents
Using Twitter in the classroom creates a sense of transparency for parents. They’re able to see what you’re doing in the classroom as it’s happening.
In addition to lesson plans, I share pictures and evidence of student work on my account, which allows parents to see exactly what their children are getting involved in, and even how they’re thinking throughout the day. In the past, parents were only able to see the end result, a grade or final project, whereas now they can follow along as we go through the learning process.
Expanding My Professional Learning
Social networks have made sharing a part of our daily routine, and educators are constantly sharing. Twitter changes your access to professional learning, breaking through the limitations of scheduling single meetings within your own building. I have acquired more resources since following educators around the globe than I did in my pre-Tweeting teaching career. I’m constantly bookmarking sites and ideas connected to my own personal areas of interest, like 21st century learning, digital citizenship and educational technology.
The moral of this story is: be open to change. As my investment in teaching (and Twitter) grew, I realized the benefits of becoming more social and collaborative resulted in an experience where I’m consistently learning and growing in new directions. I feel a continual sense of accomplishment and inspiration, even more so when I share something on Twitter and I can see my students or colleagues retweeting, bookmarking, and commenting.
Twitter can easily mold to fit any individual classroom, and as an educator you have full control on how to make it work for you. I continue to see an improvement in time on task, completion of work and overall understanding. I listened to my students and I heard them when they let me in on their secret: this is where we are, come join us.
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