Innovation in Schools: One Teacher at a Time

Two days ago I received an e-mail from a colleague who teaches tenth grade English and also serves as a reading specialist. She inquired about meeting with me to discuss how she could shift her students from writing their reading responses in spiral notebooks to some kind of online resource. We met yesterday.

When we met she explained that she wanted her students to be able to read and comment on each other’s writing, and she also wanted to be able to provide feedback. Several tools that could accomplish her goal came to mind: Edmodo, WordPress, Evernote, Google Docs, and of course, Twitter.

I started with a “crash course” on Twitter.

I showed my colleague my own Twitter timeline and the hashtag I created for my students, #PAMKT. I then went on to explain that because Twitter is only 140 characters, students are forced to be concise in their writing, summarize the key takeaways of their reading, and that Twitter can be used as a great formative assessment tool.

Her response?

A super excited “yes! that’s exactly what I want for them!”

After recommending she create a hashtag for each of her classes, and for each writing topic to help stay organized, I then explained how she could use Twitter to connect with other English teachers and reading specialists. I referred her to Jerry Blumengarten’s Reading &  Literacy Skills page  as well as the Official Twitter Chat Google Doc.

I encouraged her to set up an account, create a profile, use a picture, and the best training of all…have her students help her! While most of our students are on Twitter already and understand the “lingo” (or so they think, mine were convinced that you can’t use a number in a hashtag, despite the fact I recently created #TTEC1) many students are using the tool simply as they would a text message.

They intend for only a close-knit group of their peers to see their Tweets. “So happy mom made pancakes this morning!” They don’t fully understand that THE WORLD can see what they Tweet, provided their accounts are public, which most of them are. They aren’t using Twitter to learn or build a network of other like-minded individuals to help them achieve their career goals.

This is where we as educators come into play.

Once we learn to set-up an account, get a grip on the lingo, and start using Twitter for our own professional development, we can then model effective use of Twitter for our students and hopefully influence them to follow our lead. Many of my students have done just that. They have become passionate, self-directed learners who are building their own professional learning networks and its such a reward to see these connections taking place!

For the next tool, I recommended Edmodo. I explained the many features of Edmodo in education. It’s privacy, assessment and analytics features, the Edmodo app, and that it has a very “Facebook” look and feel, yet it’s education based. Of course when I went to actually show her my Edmodo class page I couldn’t log on (like Twitter and Drive from time to time there are little glitches) but I was able to convince her to give Edmodo a try. However, I think it was the students who were in my room at the time, who were more convincing to her to start using Edmodo than I was!

Next I briefly showed her Evernote, WordPress, and Google Docs as potential tools for creating digital writing spaces for her and her students. I encouraged her to start to “play” with the various tools and to spend the summer experimenting and connecting with other educators. I ended by encouraging her to reach out to me anytime with questions and I’m going to encourage her to attend an Edcamp this summer.

So there you have it. Innovation may take some time, but it has to start somewhere. As more and more teachers are realizing the potential advantages of digital resources, it’s even more critical that we support each other through connecting and sharing.

At some point, the innovation is bound to become viral. It’s starting to happen, and I have proof. The colleague I met with yesterday opened a Twitter account that same evening and started following me!  I’m excited about the “innovation bubble” that’s about to burst because our students are the ones who are going to benefit the most.

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