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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Using ‘Social Media Wisely’ in Education

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 27, 2018 15 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What are the best ways teachers can have students use social media for learning, and the best ways teachers can use it best for their own professional development?

Social media is all around us, and both teachers and students use it in their personal lives.

This series will explore ways it can be used by teachers for educational purposes.

Today’s contributors are Lorena German, Shaeley Santiago, Jeremy Hyler, Dr. Troy Hicks and Dr. Mary Howard. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Lorena, Shaeley and Jeremy on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.

Response From Lorena German

Lorena German is a 12th year Dominican-American educator working with young people in Austin, Texas. She has been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and others and is an active member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. She is a two-time nationally awarded teacher and co-founder of The Multicultural Classroom, an organization seeking to support educators in developing a culturally sustaining approach to education. Lorena is a wife, mami, teacher, and writer. Follow her onTwitter at @nenagerman:

Social media is a part of our world and will probably be that way for the rest of our lives. There are jobs in our country solely focused on social media. As teachers, it’s our job to help students use social media wisely and effectively as we think about how to prepare them for a life outside of school.

I’m not mad at social media at all; I don’t see it as “what kids these days do.” It’s an important space that has actually caused some crucial shifts in publishing voices and our democracy. Before Twitter stories, you could (at best) self-publish. Before FaceBook posts, we only heard the voices in our living rooms or on the news. Before snapchats it was almost impossible for us to see what people genuinely looked and sounded like in other countries.

Social media should be playing a role in our classrooms, especially Language Arts ones, because we teach the language of arts and what better place to watch that art happen, then on social media?

My main tip for using social media, though, is to make sure that you’re not using social media for demonstration of knowledge tasks but for production of knowledge tasks. Demonstration of knowledge tasks are assessments or tasks completed by students that demonstrate what they learned during your unit or lesson. These tasks are necessary and useful. However, often times, in English classrooms the social media task is to create a Facebook account for a novel’s protagonist. That’s cool for demonstrating that you understood the novel and the characterization used by the author, but that’s it. Instead, how about using social media in a way that produces knowledge? What if instead, students created polls online where they began conversations among other users addressing a key and relevant issue related to the text? Maybe then figuring out how to process the data (which becomes an interdisciplinary task, now, inviting mathematics) and what language to use to word and present that information? How about we teach students to use social media meaningfully in a way that responds to and critiques society?

I’m not against the social media profile account, entirely. I’ve used it and may even use it again in the future. But, what I’ve seen in many cases is that the profile account is the end of interacting with social media for language arts class. How does that prepare our students to engage with social media in a way that interacts with other people and is more real-world related? How do we help them use social media in a way that even leads to activism or critically thinking about our society and world?

Similarly, I find that social media, especially Twitter, is a fertile space for teacher professional development. I constantly learn about new texts, new strategies, many resources, other educators, and in this way I curate my professional learning community. My development as a professional meets my needs, uniquely. I follow the educators that are leaders and I follow organizations that promote equity and justice in education. In this way, my time on Twitter is always one where I’m learning more about teaching and learning.

Response From Shaeley Santiago

Shaeley Santiago is an ESL Instructional Coach and Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for the Ames Community School District in Ames, Iowa. Prior to becoming a coach, she was an ESL teacher at Ames High School for 10 years. She is a big fan of social media for teachers; you can follow her on Twitter at @HSeslteacher:

One of the biggest advantages of social media is the way in which it removes barriers for real-world connections outside of classrooms. Students can ask an author a question on Twitter and receive a response almost magically. They can communicate with others around the world, sharing their work for public comment or having discussions with experts about seemingly obscure topics of interest unlike never before.

Tapping into a broader audience outside the classroom is one of the most meaningful ways to use social media to help students learn. It might include one of the following ideas:

  • Mystery Skype sessions or Skype with an author
  • Use the #comments4kids hashtag on Twitter to invite feedback on projects and student blog posts

  • Teenage students can post book reviews on Goodreads (read a review posted by one of my former students)

  • Student-run social media account for the classroom - assign a student of the day to share out key points learned, topics discussed, or questions for further research

There are even more possibilities for teachers to use social media for their own professional development. It is a convenient way to connect with others who have similar interests and areas of specialization. Because it is an optional method of professional development, most educators who are active on social media do so based on personal motivation and interest. This type of on-demand learning can be very powerful if you have a strong Professional Learning Network (PLN). Here are some ways to tap into the power of social media for teacher professional development.

  • Participate in Twitter chats. Generally an hour long each week, chats often follow a Q&A format on a pre-selected topic with questions tweeted by a moderator. They are a great source of people to follow based on the topics you are most interested in. I highly recommend #ELLChat on Mondays at 9 PM Eastern and the monthly #ELLedtech chat on the third Sunday at 7 PM Eastern. For more information on education chats on Twitter, view Cybrary Man’s page.

  • Follow a conference hashtag on social media, especially if you are not able to attend the event in person. Attendees will often share quotes, key ideas, and links to information shared by the speakers. For example, I found some excellent resources on MTSS that were tweeted from #TESOL17 even though I was unable to attend myself. Seeing who is posting using a conference hashtag is also an opportunity to expand your network by following those involved in the conversation.

  • Similar to live Twitter chats, there are also slow chats where people respond to a question or two during the week. One variation on slow chats are book clubs on Twitter. The group selects a book to read, and the moderator posts questions for people to respond to. #ELLchat_bkclub reads a different book each month while #educoach periodically focuses on a book. I’ve found these conversations to be deeper than most Twitter chats because of the common content of the book.

  • Watch social media for announcements about professional development events online or near you. EdCamps are one example of a free event that generally takes place in person but is heavily impacted by social media. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are another example of a free professional development opportunity, but these occur online. Stanford’s Understanding Language group puts on some excellent MOOCs for teachers of ELs.

The better your network, the more you’re likely to get from interacting with them. So even if you’re relatively new to a particular medium, commit to spending time on it on a regular basis with the intention of finding new people to follow and participating in the conversation by posting content yourself. Personally, I have found Twitter chats to be one of the best ways to do this, but I know others who are part of education-related groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media sites.

Response From Jeremy Hyler & Dr. Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K-12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Follow him on Twitter @hickstro.

Jeremy Hyler is an 8th grade English and Science teacher at Fulton Middle School in Michigan. He is also co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University and the vice-president of The Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG). As well as contributing to many professional texts, Hyler has co-authored Create, compose, connect! Reading, writing, and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014) with Dr. Troy Hicks as well as the recently released from texting to teaching: grammar instruction in a digital age:

Encourage students to look at social media posts, images, and videos as “texts” that are ripe for study. Just as we would examine a novel, an article, home, or a film, invite students to think about how and why the authors of social media posts created - or simply “like” or “retweeted” - the text that they did.

What words did the author use to describe the idea, event, person, or other important features of the event? In what ways does the author described him or herself as being part of - or witness to - the event? What choices does the author make about language and style, especially related to abbreviations, slang, or the use of trending words or hashtags?

If there are photos or video in the post, how do colors, lighting, setting, or other elements of visual literacy affect the quality of what was shared? If there are graphics in the post, how do fonts, colors, shapes, and lines create a distinct feel to the image?

In short, ask students to examine social media posts both critically and creatively, working to understand why and how the authors of those posts made decisions as digital writers.

On the teaching side of things, social media should also be looked at critically and creatively by educators. With very little technology know how, quality professional development from social media can be utilized effectively. Sites such as Twitter and Pinterest are great places to start because they are simple to use and provide a wealth of information.

Twitter chats have grown substantially over the last five years. On any given night teachers can log-in to their Twitter account and use a hashtag to participate in a professional conversation around a given topic. Through these nightly chats, many teachers are willing to not only share their expertise on the given topic, but willing to share teaching resources they have developed. Teachers can take their pick on what night they want to chat.

If chatting on Twitter is too much to think about, Pinterest is a great way for educators to “mine” the internet for resources they can use in their classrooms. Pinterest is deemed a social media site where participants can pin items they have interest in. Members can also create their own boards where they pin their content. For example, teachers could have a “writing resources” or “reading resources” categories to pin reading and writing resources they may find useful. Pinterest is also a place to connect and follow others and the boards they have created. No matter what you are comfortable with, social media can be a phenomenal tool to use for professional development in a time where budgets are being cut.

Social media is a tool that should be utilized by students and teachers alike. As educators, if we are going to instruct our students to use social media in constructive and effective ways, we have to be able to model that in our own practices as teachers when we use it for our professional development needs.

Response From Dr. Mary Howard

Dr. Mary Howard is a national literacy consultant the author with forty-five years of experience. Mary co-moderates #G2Great Twitter chat every Thursday at 8:30 EST with educators Amy Brennan and Jenn Hayhurst. She is the author of Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters (Heinemann, 2012), Moving Forward with RTI: Reading and Writing Activities for Every Instructional Setting and Tier (Heinemann, 2010) and RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (Heinemann, 2009):

My dedication to professional growth began in 1972 but it reached life-altering heights when I brought Twitter into the learning mix three years ago. Twitter is ideal for busy educators with a design that invites professional ponderings but forces us to condensed them into 140 (now 280) characters of inspiration. This forces us to siphon ideas into two stages of reflection: first thinking and rethinking for brevity.

Twitter chats are a major component of my social media journey as it has engaged me in dialogue from multiple perspectives. As a co moderator of #G2Great chat, we have merged student and educator voices on numerous occasions. High school #BowTieBoys were our guest hosts three times (Sam Fremin, Varsity, Junior Varsity) as well as father and middle school son team Tony and Paul Sinanis and fifth grade #Kidsedchat creators Eden and Ella.

The public forum of Twitter makes safety a prime concern when students are involved. #kidsedchat has addressed this issue as teachers tweet for students from their classroom Twitter account. The chat occurs during the school day, allowing for schoolwide collaboration with an invitation extended to other schools. Many educators use their classroom Twitter account in the same way as they share images and ideas white introducing students to social media connections.

For many educators, the lure of professional collaboration makes Twitter an easy sell but a surprising number of teachers have yet to discover its wide impact. I recommend that schools create stepping-stones to advertise those gifts within an introductory capacity that won’t overwhelm them with full-scale commitment. These four simple ideas will help teacher move closer to Twitter:

  • Collective Reflection: Select ONE tweet of interest to supports your school goals. Enlarge and display the tweet for teachers to discuss. Display it on a butcher paper discussion wall or table so that teachers can add shared write-around comments.

  • Focused Investigations: Gather related tweets revolving around a specific topic or author. This allows teachers to explore common ideas from varied perspectives while using this to initiate dialogue. Teachers may also work in groups to reflect on one tweet at a deeper level and then share their collective thinking with peers.

  • Tweet Gatherings: The above ideas are designed to show teachers the learning potential of tweets but the ultimate goal is to transition them onto Twitter. Teachers can work alone or with others to engage in a personal professional exploration to find one tweet that interests them or that they would like to discuss further. Display these collective interests on a Twitter wall to inspire continued dialogue and collaboration. This is a great way to visibly see what topics are important to teachers.

  • 5-3-1 Twitter Challenge: Once the Twitter door has been opened, gently nudge teachers to increase their engagement. My 5-3-1 Twitter challenge asks teacher to follow FIVE people they admire, retweet or like THREE of those tweets and respond to ONE of those tweets. This accommodates choice while offering a manageable way to engage in Twitter.

Twitter has changed the way countless educators engage in professional learning through enthusiastic conversation with educators across the world where ideas, suggestions, images, and inspiration abounds. It is my hope that this professional goldmine will continue to grow as our view of professional learning stretches far beyond our own four walls. Using these simple steps, will broaden the Twitter impact and reach into countless classrooms where this learning will come to life where it matters most - in the company of children.

Thanks to Lorena, Shaeley, Jeremy, Troy and Mary for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Classroom Management Advice

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Implementing The Common Core

Best Ways To Begin The School Year

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Student Motivation & Social Emotional Learning

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I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days.

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