Dyan Branstetter | October 2016

The Power of an Audience: Social Media in the Classroom

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of my current “top five” of free or low-cost technology tools that I use in my classroom for Arts-Integration or STEAM lessons. Throughout the fall, I will focus on ideas for using each tool. Find the original list here

Is your class on social media? Not just you, but your students? When I first started to explore this idea, I thought having a class Twitter or Instagram account would be a fun, real-time way for students to share information with their parents. Now that I have tried it and read about/followed other teachers who have, I realize it is worth much more to me as an educator than just a communication tool.

It is a powerful way for students to have a voice, and if used effectively, it can increase the quality of student work through positive peer pressure. In addition, it allows us to embed digital citizenship instruction through real-world experience.

Social Media In The Classroom: Why Do I Need This?

Even our youngest students are aware of social media. They know that if something is posted, others see it, and they can share their opinion in the form of a “like” or a comment. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to teach about a digital footprint. If we teach this to our younger students, we may be able to avoid the cyberbullying that may come with students’ digital life when they are older. Even more than lessons on digital citizenship, when students post their work and they know others will see it, they will begin to spend more time ensuring that their work is quality. This is particularly relevant for student blogging or online portfolios such as SeeSaw or ClassDojo’s Student Story.

Last year, I read a blog post by educator Ross Cooper that really shifted my perspective about students posting their work from a “fun” activity to an important activity. He reminds us that when students are publishing their work for a teacher, that limits the audience drastically, consequently decreasing the motivation. It makes sense- would I be writing this article if I were just saving it to my personal computer? Probably not.

My purpose is to share the information I have, therefore, publishing it. Knowing that others will read it greatly motivates me to proofread and make sure it is my best work. Check out his post, and take the time to watch the accompanying video clip that he refers to. Find it here: “Why to Write for Your Teacher When you can Publish for the World?

What better way to create buy-in for the Arts Integration and STEAM lessons that are happening in the classroom! Students will want to share these lessons, and social media in the classroom gives them a platform to do it. When students are the ones choosing what to share, you will quickly determine the lessons that were important to students. Parents will see what’s happening and they will see the excitement that it generates in their children. I have found that this helps a lot if you need parents to donate materials. If your administrators follow your account, it will give them a daily snapshot into your classroom. They will get a big picture idea of what you do, rather than just formal observations and infrequent walk-throughs.

The Logistics

First and foremost, it is important to secure permission from your students’ families. I find that almost all families give permission for this once they hear my rationale. For those that don’t give permission, I am able to further explain my rationale in person, and once they realize the full purpose they agree. For those students who are not able to gain permission due to custody laws, we make sure that they have a few extra opportunities behind the camera. While you can gain permission through a general school media release form, I find that it is better to make this specific to the platform. I revised an example I found here and created an Instagram permission slip.

Once you’ve gained permission and chosen your platform, decide how you will manage this without it interrupting your instruction. I have a class list of social media in the classroom partners on the wall, and each day a different pair of students decides what to take a picture of and what the caption will be. During the day, they take a picture and write the caption for me on a post it. I then post it at lunch or after school. If you are a specialist with many different classes, you could rotate through classes instead of doing this with each class, or you could focus on just one grade level.

Before turning the camera over to students, share your guidelines for what they should capture. I ask students to think about what we have learned that day and take a picture of something that seemed important to them. Sometimes students snap a quick picture of an anchor chart or candid action in the classroom. Other times, they think back to something earlier in the day and have some friends act it out for the picture. Either way, it requires students to reflect on their instruction.

After a while, this permeates students’ thinking. I can tell because, during new instruction, new procedures, or a lesson with an important theme, students sometimes comment, “We should post this on Instagram!” I have even shared the idea of hashtags with students. It is a challenging way to help them learn to summarize. (For examples and a reading fluency activity, check out Hello Literacy’s activity here.)

Further Reading:

If you’re still on the fence, find some classrooms in your grade level or specialty area who are active on social media. Follow them, and then follow their lead. I have learned a lot from Kayla Delzer of Top Dog Teaching.  She is a 3rd-grade teacher who leads her students (and parents) through a digital boot camp before creating a huge social media presence. Read her EdSurge article on social media in the classroom here.

In addition, I heard a conference presentation by Josh Stumpenhorst on the topic of motivating students through social media in the classroom. Following other teachers can help your classroom become connected, and then in addition to parents being your class audience, you can expand to other students being the audience. Watch your students’ motivation skyrocket.

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.