Well, celebrities use it, politicians use it, why shouldn't teachers use it? We're talking about Twitter, of course. Carrie Kamm, mentor-resident coach with the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s (AUSL) Chicago Teacher Residency program, noted that one of the greatest things about 2013 school year was seeing how teachers put Twitter to work in their classrooms.
As an instructional coach, Carrie has observed and participated in many new opportunities for students to get to know each other and communicate their learning. Autumn Laidler, a third and fourth grade science teacher at the National Teachers Academy, played a critical role in introducing Twitter to her colleagues.
In February 2013, Autumn and other Chicago Public School educators hosted PLAYDATE at Carrie's school. PLAYDATE was just that—a space for teachers to play with technology, share ideas, and network. Participants had a wide range of experience: from Twitter newbies to teachers who were already thinking about how to use Twitter to communicate with families.
Inspired by PLAYDATE, a team of our teachers created Twitter Tuesday. On Tuesdays, teachers and their classes discussed a predetermined topic of interest to the entire school community, then teachers tweeted on students’ behalf with the hash tag #NTAlearns. On a cold day in February, our first topic was “What do you like about being an NTA student?”
Over the course of the spring, what began as an experiment became a tradition that students looked forward to each week. Older students began to reflect on their position as role models in our pre-K to 8th grade school. Our younger students began to feel they had a voice in the school, a way to share their learning and ideas. We frequently heard students saying, “Should we tweet this out?” when they made a discovery.
Students also learned about the responsibilities that come with having an online presence—starting in the kindergarten classroom. Teachers facilitated discussions about how the norms for treating one another that they have established in the classroom were also connected to Twitter interactions. Students learned other basics about social media interactions: the importance of using initials to protect their identity and that is not necessarily a good idea to follow someone just because they are following you.
As Erin Emmanuel, one of our first grade teachers, put it: “If students are learning how Twitter works alongside us, we can help them understand what making good choices means with this tool.”
Advice from my teaching colleagues on using Twitter in the classroom:
- Begin with Twitter 101. Explain what the symbols and technology mean. (Below is an example of an anchor chart that can help.)
- Try to find a group of interested colleagues and choose one day to tweet.
- Discuss the “why” of Twitter with your students. How can we use Twitter to communicate with others in our school and with a broader audience? How can that be beneficial for us as learners?
- Be sure to inform parents. Be clear about how you will protect students’ anonymity and privacy. Consider sharing classroom tweets with parents via Storify or some other tool if they are not on Twitter.
My teaching colleagues are already thinking about how they will use Twitter with students next school year. Some ideas include:
- Planning monthly prompts rather than weekly prompts—which can become difficult during busy times of the year.
- Using Twitter as a space for a daily classroom journal.
- Creating multiple classroom chats. We had a great one going this year between our first and fourth graders: both have hermit crabs in their classrooms and they discussed the behaviors they observed!
- Students facilitating the discussions and having the teacher serve as typist and editor.
Carrie Kamm has 15 years of experience in education and is currently a mentor-resident coach with the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s (AUSL) Chicago Teacher Residency program. She is a coauthor of TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do for our Students and our Public Schools… Now and In the Future and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s collaboratory.