Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Twitter & The Lesson that makes me Cry

Recently, while facilitating a workshop with a group of colleagues, I was asked about the relevance of Twitter and how it might be used in the classroom. I took some time to share with them the importance of building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) and listed all of the positives that come with a Twitter presence.

  • It’s fun to follow people.
  • You can facilitate student voice.
  • It is a great source for news as it happens and therefore ...
  • is a social disruptor and galvanizer (Arab Spring, Russian annexation of Crimea).
  • It is great for quick hits of Professional Development.
  • Great educators share resources all the time.
  • You can build a PLN specific to your interests and grade level.
  • A Principal may (should?) ask about yours in an interview.
  • It is ongoing evidence of your best practice - because you curate it.
  • If you follow comedians, you will always have timely jokes.
  • Growing your following rewards your ego (I’d like to say I am better than this … but I have learned that I am not)

When asked about using it in the classroom, I shared the unit that I have dubbed “the one that always makes me cry.”

One would think that, after delivering this unit more than five times, I would have developed a thicker skin. This has not been the case and I am now a firm believer in Andropause. My cynical and hardened veneer has increasingly been showing cracks.
  • I struggle through sad movies...particularly those by Pixar (The first 10 minutes of “UP” gutted me).
  • I more actively avoid media that is tragic and I have far more difficulty processing it when I encounter it.
  • I quickly block any Facebook post that is potentially disturbing (I’m looking at you PETA).

I recognize that this softer side is likely evidence of emotional progress and I realize I am genuinely sharing an empathetic aspect of my personality with my students. However, there remains a nugget of neanderthal masculinity buried deep within my amygdala that steadfastly cautions me - “Emotion bad! You strong! Make joke to relieve tension!.... Good talk about sports!”

The Activity

It begins with an open discussion about the word “homelessness” using a strategy called Post it, Pile it, Pin it. I may start by showing a few photos of homeless people and ask my students to think about words, ideas or opinions that come to mind. They are encouraged to share with each other by writing down their ideas on a post-it note. Another member of the group can also post ideas that are shared orally. A pile of these notes is created in the middle of the table. Finally, the notes are brought to the front and pinned to a chart paper. This also serves to sort the responses because similar responses are grouped.
An updated “techy” version of this involves laptops and a virtual wall - through a program called Padlet.
Obviously, responses will vary but; my experiences have seen the words tend to fall into two categories. One group of posts will contain negative opinions which castigate the homeless (drunk, criminals, lazy, dirty, scary, drug-users). The other set tend to show more compassion or sympathy (misunderstood, mentally ill, helpless, sad, poor). It seems likely that the students are merely parroting opinions that they have heard from others (perhaps the adults in their worlds). The ultimate goal of the lesson is to help them discover their own opinion and move past stereotypes. The Ontario Grade 6 Health curriculum connections fit in nicely here.
C1.3 identify factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept (e.g., environment, evaluations by others who are important to them, stereotypes, awareness of strengths and needs, social competencies, cultural and gender identity, support, body image, mental health and emotional well-being, physical abilities).
I do my best to list these responses without showing judgement. It is important that students feel comfortable sharing their opinions and we regularly talk about how our perspectives can change when we have additional information. At this point, I share the picture book “Fly Away Home” by Eve Bunting with them. Well, actually, because I struggle to get through it without blubbering - I show the YouTube video of it.

There are some great discussion points available and many students are able to make the connection between the symbolic escape of the bird and Andrew’s life. We can also revisit some of the post it notes and talk about which ones apply to the characters in the story.

The Twitter Connection

So, how does this connect to Twitter? That comes in the next step. I share the following video in which homeless people read mean tweets about the homeless.
It is powerful and requires some setting up (It can also make me weepy). The word “piss” is used. Consequently, that requires some editing or a class discussion about language before it is screened. I prefer the latter. Students respond positively to frank conversation about word choice and this can be empowering for them.
We have a discussion about Tweets, Twitter and Hashtags. We use Edmodo as a classroom forum; so, they are already well versed in Social Media etiquette, online bullying and the T.H.I.N.K. approach to posting.
Again, we can look at our pinned notes and reflect on stereotypes and empathy. I then present the following challenge.
In 140 characters, can you write a kind tweet about homelessness which includes a hashtag to identify it.

As a class, we brainstorm and choose a hashtag. Suggestions and past examples have included #KindnessCounts #EHStudentsCare (EH is Eagle Heights) #HelpHomeless or maybe #KindTweets4Homeless.

I provide the students with a strip of graph paper with about 140 boxes available. The students develop their ideas on scrap paper and then, once satisfied, print them out on the graph paper strip. I log on to my Twitter account and they are invited to type in their Tweets. I do ask that they call me over to confirm things before posting. Over the next few hours, we look forward to alerts that “like” or “retweet” our efforts at kindness.
If you would like to help us, drop me a line. It would be great to organize a day of kind tweets around a common hashtag. If not, look for our tweets this fall. I think I may take the coward’s route and encourage my student teacher to deliver this unit.
Good … Make joke...Sad feeling go back down!

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