By Brian Hayes, OCT
In a digital world that is full of information, educators need to encourage students to become creators of content as opposed to consumers. In order to shift towards this mindset, it takes a commitment to learn and understand the variety of technologies available to enhance learners’ educational experience. Two great tools that work nicely together enhancing learners’ experience in the classroom, as well as allowing educators to develop, are Twitter and blogging. For students with learning disabilities, these social media platforms provide an engaging space to share their creative ideas while developing digital citizenship and becoming creators of digital content. Most importantly students are developing lifelong 21st century skills, all the while building critical thinking, self-confidence and resiliency.
For those new to Twitter, Twitter is an online social networking service that enables registered users to send and read short 140-character messages referred to as "tweets". However, Twitter is not just a form of social media that celebrities use to send out messages. As skeptical as I was at first, I quickly learned the power Twitter could have in my classroom for both my students’ learning experience and my teaching practice.
Four Reasons to use Twitter in the Classroom
1. Stay connected with new information
Information for students and teachers in today’s world is abundant. Using Twitter to stay connected allows current information to be instantly accessible. As educators, we want to be able to stay current with information about best practices to support our students’ learning. To assist with our practice, Twitter allows us to follow individuals or groups that are regularly posting relevant information.
Similarly for students, Twitter can be a source of information. Students are able to access links and professional opinions posted through Twitter. Searching specific hashtags allows students to narrow their search of information across the World Wide Web. This practice makes researching information a much less daunting task, especially for those students with sequencing and organizational issues.
2. Network with others worldwide
Twitter is not simply about consuming information; it is a tool to build a vast social network. As professionals, we are able to self-direct our professional development by building a network of like-minded educators. This global network allows participants to learn best practices, share ideas, participate in chats, and most importantly, connect.
Inside the classroom, Twitter is powerful for showing students the importance of networking. By reaching out to professionals and teachers, students are able to connect their in-class learning to the outside world. This provides a deeper understanding of concepts and application for our students. For example, reaching out to an author through Twitter can allow a class to better understand characters or events in a novel. Twitter is allowing teachers to provide students with experiences in order for them to apply making connections as a comprehension strategy.
There are many opportunities available through Twitter to network with other teachers and classrooms. Twitter is becoming a modern day pen pal writing tool; instead of writing a letter and waiting weeks, you are able to connect with individuals or groups and get a response almost instantly. If it was not for Twitter, my class would not have been “Canadian Professionals” for a class in Iowa nor have been able to venture into the world of Mystery Skype.
3. Compels students to be mindful of what they are posting
There are many critiques of social media, mainly because we tend to focus on the negative aspects as opposed to the positive uses of these tools. In order for students to understand the power of Twitter and be able to effectively harness this power to support their learning, teachers must explicitly model the responsible use of these programs. One effective way of doing so is to create a class account; this way, the teacher can control the posts, and yet co-create posts with students, modelling the acceptable and appropriate use of social media.
For many students with LDs, it is difficult for them to clearly communicate exactly what they want to say. Using Twitter allows them to practice communicating their thinking in a clear and concise way.
4. 140 Characters is significant for learners with LDs
Many learners with LDs struggle with being able to clearly communicate exactly what they want to say. Twitter provides students with the opportunity to practice and develop their communication skills. With a maximum of 140 characters, students must effectively choose words to get their message across. When a post is over the 140 characters, students are able to practice editing skills in order to reword and make their post more concise. Short forms or abbreviations are used regularly in the “Twitterverse”, however teachers are able to limit the use for their students in order to practice and develop their communication skills. Practicing this as a group results in, demonstrating multiple ways to communicate one message, allowing students to see how words are manipulated to effectively communicate a message, asking questions, or making statements.
Twitter inside the classroom is a logical tool that even I was skeptical of at first. Although it can provide great access to shared information, Twitter engages students, allows the educator to create a network of relationships with other educators or agencies, and opens doors to many interesting opportunities to enhance our students’ learning and educator’s professional development. The next logical step is to take this information and move from consumers of digital information to creators of knowledge. Blogging, no matter which platform you use, is a great way to showcase your critical and creative thinking to a global audience.
Four Reasons to Blog in the classroom
1. Share student voice: the modern day public speaking
In the 21st century, technology has changed the way in which we communicate. For many students, especially those with LDs, public speaking or giving speeches can be a stressful event, which is not conducive to all learning styles. Blogging allows our students not only to share their thoughts, but do it in such a way that allows them to feel comfortable. They do not have to physically speak in front of many people, yet they have a large global audience. In essence, blogging has become a modern version of public speaking, without the associated stress.
Furthermore, this digital platform provides students with LDs a voice to communicate their thinking. As one student described their blogging experience, “I am able to share work I am proud of and not be shy.” Blogging has levelled the playing field for students of all ability levels.
2. Increases performance as anyone can view posts
A global audience is a positive for a number of reasons. When teachers and students post on a blog, it is accessible for anyone with internet access to view. This becomes a great teaching point as having a global audience requires students to become more thoughtful and focused on their writing.
Students are not able to simply post work; they also need to be able to explain to the audience what the post is about. An easy way to do so is to frame the explanation with a number of simple reflection questions:
- What is this assignment about?
- What did I learn?
- What did I do well?
- What can I improve for next time?
This reflection process causes students to think critically about their abilities and build metacognitive capacity for future assignments and blog posts. The repetition of this process for every post is key for students with LDs, as it allows for practice and development of critical thinking skills, which transfers over time into other subject areas. The more comfortable students become with the process, the more confident they become in their abilities as a student.
3. Builds confidence and self-esteem
Many students with LDs lack confidence and self-esteem in regards to their work. As educators, it is our responsibility to help build and foster self-esteem on many levels. Since students with LDs have average to above average intelligence and are capable of creative and critical thought, blogging provides them with a platform to share their knowledge with a global audience and receive feedback from more than just their teachers or peers.
It is this type of feedback that allows students to see that their creative ideas are worthy of being shared with the entire world. As educators, we are able to moderate comments so that students only see appropriate and constructive feedback, which may be used to improve students’ writing skills and self-confidence.
4. Building digital citizenship
Teaching students how to appropriately use social media, especially Twitter, along with becoming creators of digital content through blogging in a safe environment, such as a classroom, leads to students becoming positive, digital citizens. Allowing students to use technology in their daily work increases engagement, but also allows students to learn appropriate use, which in turn helps our students to begin to develop a positive digital footprint.
Brian Hayes is currently teaching grade 7 at Sagonaska Demonstration School in Belleville, Ontario. A seconded teacher from HPEDSB, Brian has been supporting students with a wide variety of exceptionalities from grades 6 - 10 both as a teacher within the Provincial Schools Branch and within his home board, however he has most closely worked with students with learning disabilities. As an educator, Brian believes that the exposure to a wide range of technologies, development of strong self-advocacy skills, and helping students learn about how they learn best are key to levelling the playing field in order for success for all students.