Using Twitter to Empower Classroom Learning

Nov 15, 2016

So there I was, thirty sets of eyes on me, fumbling awkwardly at my computer, trying desperately to get the school’s video announcements going before my class went into technological mutiny.

The Wifi appears to be working…that’s not it.

I tried refreshing the page…that’s not it.

I even pasted the link into the browser myself…no such luck.

Why won’t the video play, dammit?! With the ‘abandon all hope’ sign looming ominously above my computer, I started quietly praying to the YouTube gods for access into the Multimedia City before this band of teenagers ties me up with my own HDMi cables and hangs me from the overhead projector...

“Um, Miss?” I heard a voice proffer. “I think you just need to log in to your YouTube account. Just...hit the button in the top-right, there.”

First, I felt the golden warmth of a miracle descending upon me before the sting of stupidity snuffed it out.

I just needed to log IN?! That’s it?!

I was completely miffed by the fact that this thing called technology actually beat me. I can literally remember the days of my own youth, watching my high school teacher fumble awkwardly with the VCR and the whole class screaming, ‘just pressed the Power button, will ya?!’ I vowed never to be that lame; in fact, I thought it an impossibility that one could be so disconnected from these tools that fill our lives so full. And here I am, at the bitterest, opposite end of tech-savvy you could imagine. I’m, I’m…(gasp!)...tech-sorry.

I had to get a grip. If I’m going to continue to be an effective teacher, I’m certainly going to need to brush up on some of this stuff. In my 20’s I thought I’d be that hip teacher forever: talking Instant Messenger with my kids, wowing them with my SmartBoard svelte, playing books on audio, and weaving WebQuests into the curriculum. Oh yeah, I was so ahead of the times.

Yet here I was at the time thinking...I’m 32, and I can’t log in to YouTube. (and you should've SEEN their faces when I didn't know what SnapChat 'geotagging' was...oh, the humanity!).  If I let myself carry on like this, what will my instructional practice look like at 52? I shudder at the thought of being so technologically dated, and yet I’m not the victim in this sore tale; I’m the villain.

By NOT refreshing our own teaching cache (you know, our own, special high-speed storage mechanism where our innovative lesson planning capabilities are stashed?!), we're slowly disconnecting from our audience.  In some ways, we're even disengaging them.  This is not to say that throwing a bunch of technology at young adults is the only way to stimulate their amusement; of course not!  But we DO need to make every effort to understand the world our digital natives are growing up in, and we are obligated to stay current.

Problem is, this takes time.  Time we don't have.  We're grading, we're offering help at lunch, meeting parents after school, planning lessons by night light.  We're up early to pack lunches for our children, sneaking to the gym before we drive them to school, picking up take-out on the nights we can't muster a home-cooked meal...the list of responsibilities and Life-as-We-Know-It's goes on.

We’re busy people. We find a teaching groove, we sink comfortably into it, and we cruise for a while because, hey, we have other stuff to do, too.  Truth is, when the opportunity arises to pin down our curriculum into a reliable pattern of tried-and-true, many of us will take it so we can pack in the other stuff—like getting that after school club together, or coaching our child’s pee-wee team, or goodness forbid, making room for a little more ‘me’ time—now that we don’t need to lesson plan so much.

I mean, we’re programmed to think, why fix what ain’t (completely) broken, right?

But if we’re going to keep up in the 21st-century classroom, we’re going to need to ‘log in.’ Now I bet you have me beat on the whole YouTube scene, and sure, we all have our standard social media indulgences that we have a 'leg-up' on…Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, even.

But here’s my question to you…are you down with Twitter?

and if you are, the real question I want to know is...

Are you down with Twitter as part of your instructional practice?!

Sure, the usual, social media suspects are good to us for obvious reasons: keeping us in touch with friends and family, finding long-lost fraternity brothers, gagging at the whereabouts of old beaus, staving off boredom at railroad crossings. But I could delete my Facebook account tomorrow and be virtually unfazed by it professionally. Same thing with my noncommittal relationship with Instagram.

As an everyday gal, Facebook keeps birthdays straight for me, and Instagram is my jam for keeping up with all my friends' babies' accomplishments (little Donovan can sit up now, Liam lost his first tooth, the cuzzies hit the beach yesterday); but as an educator, the one social media network I hold dearest is my good pal, Twitter.

Dude, Twitter is different. For some of you, I don’t have to convince you of its power to professionally develop and inspire the teachers of the world. But there are plenty of teachers out there that have yet to experience its career-motivating capabilities, and I am determined to get you to drink this Kool-aid.

As a teacher, Twitter has opened up a network, community, and support system I never knew existed. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, I can follow whoever I want and actually forge relationships with people well beyond my high school alumni list. I can ask questions and get answers more personally; I see images of other people’s classrooms, what they’re doing in real-time, and am inspired by these like-minded people; and I can be encouraged and motivated to try some of these new things instead of just sticking to what I picked up in the planning room (or on that weird Jill Pavich site…).

Oh, and did I mention that it's frighteningly, infectiously spirited about what we can do to make a difference in this world?!

Teachers, Twitter will change your professional life in a way these other media pipelines simply can't. It will forever alter your approach to instruction. And it will leave a lasting impact on the young minds we mold...it won't just engage them...it'll empower them to be successful in a totally digital era.

And if this isn’t enough to convince you, I will now channel my big sister voice and say, “I double-dog dare ya” to try it.

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Some of you are smiling because you’re checking your Twitterfeed as you read this (and hopefully tweeting out how awesome this blog post is, #jillpavich ;-)). Others are already opening a fresh tab in that browser because curiosity is a-stirrin'.  Either way, ‘atta girl (or boy)!  Now, unfortunately, according to my survey, there are a few of you out there that have zero plans to give tweets a chance.  But again, I am determined to change that.

Whatever the case, I certainly don’t think it’s enough to simply tell you, ‘hey, sign up for Twitter. It’ll change your life.’ This is because you can have the app sitting in your lap, but if you have no idea what to do with it, then what’s the use?

Here are some ideas!

1. Try out my One-Sentence Twitter Feed Summary Activity in my Free Resource Library. Students will practice summarizing news articles in a clear and concise "Tweet" rather than the old, long (and typically boring) summary we are used to! The activity walks them through how to set up a proper tweet as well as the hashtags that may go along with one. It's definitely a good starter for you as a teacher as well as students who aren't used to the tweet format! Check it out here!

2. You and your students can use Twitter as a learning base for all your passions and interests! Subscribe to "Topics" on your home page which gives you access to Tweets about your areas of interest by featuring them within your Home timeline. Twitter WANTS to personalize your experience with tweets that interest you and so by subscribing to different topics, the platform is more than happy to send relevant information and events in your direction! This may be a good place to spend bell work to keep kids up-to-date on the latest in their passion areas OR can be used as an opportunity to brainstorm before a writing activity or assessment.

3. Try the "List" feature. According to their help center, Twitter Lists allow "you to customize, organize, and prioritize the Tweets you see in your timeline. You can choose to join Lists created by others on Twitter, or from your own account, you can choose to create Lists of other accounts by group, topic, or interest." This is an amazing tool for kids to use when conducting research. For example, if Clara is conducting research on the state government of Iowa, she could start a list of all politicians, organizations, lobbyists, etc. for the Iowa government to keep up on what is happening at the present time in that state.

4. Twitter now has a feature called Spaces. It is just like Clubhouse in that people can have live audio conversations on the platform. Anyone can join, listen, and speak in a Space. Just think of the different ways your students could get in front of some big-time audiences or influencers with this function? It's exciting!

These are just a few ideas, but hopefully, I have gotten your mind a turnin' with the potential of Twitter in your classroom! If you find other ways to use Twitter, please share with me! I would love to hear all about it!

Yours in Edovation,

Jill Pavich

Connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram! See you there!

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