Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

on 15 February, 2011

So, as most of you know (I think?!) I belong to a community on Twitter called #kinderchat. You can read about it here, if you are so inclined.  Last night’s topic was “Integrating Social Media in the Kindergarten Classroom,” and boy, did it turn out to be WAY more controversial than I bargained for…

So here’s the (apparently controversial) scoop: My class tweets (well, in English, we “tweet.” In French, we “twitte.”) I set up a private Twitter account just for them. We follow about 12 different classrooms, scattered across the globe, and are followed by about 25 people — a mix of classrooms, teachers, and students’ own parents.We have been tweeting a few times a week since early January.  I project our account onto our Interactive Whiteboard (IWB, the generic term for a non-Smart brand Smartboards), we check our messages, respond to any questions, and ask a few questions of our own. Our Twitter sessions last about 15 – 20 minutes. The kids dictate all of our content, and I type it. They LOVE it, and get worried if we go more than a day or so without checking in with our twitter friends. We tweet in English and French.

Now that we have been tweeting for over a month, I could write an extensive list of all the learning (both expected and unexpected) that happens during and because of our Twitter sessions.  As wonderful as that list might be, however, nothing on it would reflect what REALLY matters to me about using Twitter in my classroom. I honestly never planned for Twitter to be primarily a literacy/numeracy exercise. I wanted my class to be on Twitter because I knew what Twitter had done for me as professional. With my fellow kinderchatters, I feel part of a professional network that far exceeds the bounds of my own school, city, country. And THAT is what I wanted for my students: to see themselves as part of a huge network of children, kindergarteners, learners, and students, who all go into classrooms, have teachers, play games, sing songs, read books, play, giggle, and learn new things. I wanted kindergarten, as an experience, to exist for them beyond the bounds of our four walls. Our school, being an international and UNESCO school, commits to graduating “active, global citizens” and that begins with an awareness that there are children! in other places! who go to school! just like us! That, to me, is a powerful understanding.

I chose Twitter as a tool to facilitate that understanding for many reasons:

  • Already having a network of kindergarten teachers myself, I knew I could find us a handful of comparably-aged “tweeps” pretty easily. 
  • The format — short, succinct sentences — is well-suited to the attention spans and language skills of my 5-year old munchkins. 
  • Unlike live-chatting programs (both video and text), Twitter is very forgiving of time zones, last -minute schedule changes, and hiccups in our wireless network.
  • I was comfortable with the degree of privacy and anonymity afforded by a protected Twitter account. 
  • Finally, Twitter is, by definition, a conversation, and that, more than anything else, is what I wanted: a way to participate in ongoing dialogue, between my students and others. I didn’t want to wait for comments on a blog or online story/presentation. (To be clear, I see the value of blogs, voicethread, prezi, etc. They were just not the best tools for what I had in mind…)

And for this, most important goal, Twitter is working, and better than I had ever dreamed. We recently read the Ezra Jack Keats classic The Snow Day, which required me to explain the concept of school being cancelled due to snow (this did not compute in their western-prairie minds: we have snow, we have school. End of story.) Within 24 hours, one of our twitter class friends reported that they had just had a snow day. The exclamations of: “Snow days really happen! They are a real thing! Our twitter friends had one!” echoed off the classroom walls. When we watched the animated story of Martin’s Big Words on January 17th, and our twitter friends reported that they had watched it, too, my students were proud that they knew about a man who was so important outside of our classroom, school, and country. They felt a part of a large group of children, their age, who had learned and talked about Martin Luther King Jr. They were proud to participate in the conversation. I was proud of them for being proud.

In the name of full disclosure: our conversations are not always about literature or historical figures. Being 5-year-olds, we also talk about Pillow Pets and Silly Bandz. We compare notes on rest-time rules, snack routines, classroom jobs, specialist teachers. They want to know the colour of the chairs in other classrooms, what others do for indoor recess, whether EVERYONE wears uniforms like we do, if their classrooms have windows, a sink, a coatroom. We learn about the weather, and that the seasons are not the same everywhere at the same time. We have discovered that EVERYONE has a 100th day of school, but that it doesn’t fall on the same day for all classes. We have proudly taught our Twitter friends the French words for a great many things. We  have learned that some schools have a church on their campus, that some classes have only girls in them, that some kindergarten teachers are MEN!!! (This last being perhaps the most amazing discovery of all). Not too long ago, we followed a link to a Storybird story, written by some 4th grade students. We read the story, and used it as a jumping-off point to talk about real vs. imaginary. We then tweeted that class to share how we had used their work in a lesson. To quote one of my kiddos: “They will be proud that we used their work to LEARN! They were kind of our teachers today!” There was such power and also such humility in that moment.

Yes, they are also beginning to pick out sight words, in 2 languages, on the screen; they notice the letters and comment on the sounds in the words I type for them. They make connections between other classes’ avatars and their screennames. They compose concise, clear, thoughts and questions. They count backwards as Twitter tells me how many characters we have left in a given tweet. They have developed a passionate interest in maps and geography…. But all of that? That is gravy, compared to this:

Tweeting is allowing my students to directly learn from and teach, other children, in a way that feels real and meaningful to them. They are aware of themselves as participants in a big conversation, and feel a sense of responsibility around contributing to that conversation regularly and thoughtfully.

And that? Is a pretty huge thing to be happening, just 140 characters at a time.

 The children keep their own, hand-drawn maps, and add new twitter friends as we meet them.

For a different viewpoint on the question of Twitter in kindergarten, please visit the lovely @jenwatson’s blog, here.


22 Responses to “To Tweet or Not to Tweet”

  1. […] relatively sheltered, largely caucasian, Canadian kindergarten students about Dr. King. They talked about their learning with twitter friends all over the world. They were so PROUD to know about something so important, it brought tears to my […]

  2. […] Thanks to some very positive media exposure, it was widely known that I tweet with my class. Then, my blog post about using Evernote for student portfolios got a fair amount of attention. In […]

  3. jake says:

    Great post!

    Thank you so much for sharing with us what you are doing. I am on a teacher on call list at the moment, but as soon as I get my own classroom, I cannot wait to use the ideas I have as well. I commend you and I am 100% on side!

  4. Mrs. Gick says:

    Bravo! What an excellent reflection about the amazing use of Twitter in the classroom! I hope my administrators will see this value and allow access next school year!

  5. I have just opened a Twitter account in my classroom. I started by e-mailing the parent that this was an experiment I wanted them to take part in with me. Your words hit exactly on every reason why I wanted to give this a try! Thank you for confirming my feelings that Kinders can do this and the many benefits!

  6. Miss Night says:

    Wow, thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments and positive feedback. My class continues to tweet, and I am so proud of the connections they are making. @Jen Smith – I used my own twitter network of kindergarten teachers as a starting point, and it grew from there. Let me know if I can help you get started!

  7. Jen Smith says:

    How did you find people to be in your twitter group? I would love to do this with my third graders!

  8. Thank you for this post. I found it via a tweet 😀 from @catlett1 and
    RT @Matt_Gomez – great work on your behalf. It sounds wonderful for your learners.

    There's lots of research that supports the work you're doing – FYI, I've added this post to a big thread of global Literacy 2.0 research and practices here:
    http://storify.com/ianchia/literacy-20-examples

    Thank you!

    – Ian

  9. Jen says:

    What an exciting way to integrate technology that is so ubiquitous and to make it into a unique way to connect with others.

  10. Brent says:

    Wonderful post. I am an Instructional Technology trainer and the power of twitter amazes me even with the little ones! It makes the world flat!!

  11. Aviva says:

    What a great post! My students use Twitter in the classroom too. I teach Grade 1 and Grade 2, and we have two class Twitter accounts (@avivadunsiger and @avivadunsiger2). I have two daily Tweeters each day, and they tweet about our day on the two class iPads. They love this responsibility, and they love connecting with a global audience. I think it's fantastic that you're giving your Kindergarten students this same amazing opportunity too!

    Aviva

    P.S. On the 100th Day of school, we used both Twitter accounts and my @grade1 account to try and send out 100 tweets. Students loved making connections from around the world in our special tweeting activity. We didn't quite make it to 100, but we got very, very close!

  12. Laura says:

    What a wonderful learning experience! My Kindergarten class would love to join your Kindergarten twitter network.

    Thank you, Laura Roberts

    wilsonkindernews@gmail.com

  13. Laura says:

    I am going to send your blog to my computer science teacher in our high school. What better support could I have hoped for than you excellent blog! Thanks for sharing!!!

  14. Nancy C says:

    Wow! I teach 4th grade and would NEVER have thought to use Twitter in the classroom with my students (partly because I'm new to the venue myself). I loved hearing about all the connections your students were making….I loved that they were finding out if their Twitter Friends had sinks, coatrooms etc.

    Curious – did you have to get permission from administration? parents? Did you start with just one class or several – I am totally hooked on this idea!

  15. Miss Night says:

    @Melissa – so honoured to have inspired you. Let me know if you ever want more details/ideas. The world is such a big place, and it is so powerful when little people get a voice.

    @jen: Thank you for the pushback. This post has been in me for a long time.

    @Teach42: We have had some technical difficulties with Skype, but as soon as they are resovled, I will take you up on your offer. My kiddos LOVE stories.

    @Meg: Global connections, indeed. Some are reading our tweets already, without even knowing they are doing so (and this in a kindergarten program with no explicit reading instruction). Amazing.

  16. kaknutson says:

    Twitter is blocked in my district. I'm going to use your blog to convince them to unblock it for me! Thanks!

  17. Meg says:

    Global connections in Kindergarten!! – AND they are so excited about reading with friends everyewhere!

  18. Teach42 says:

    Just got chills reading this. Absolutely fantastic! Makes me wish I was still in a classroom right now. If you ever want someone to read to your class via Skype, let me know 🙂

  19. Thank you for taking the time to share this. Enlightening!!!!
    Very glad you shared this.

    Jen

  20. I'm first grade teacher, and I would have never thought about using twitter in the classroom, but your post has won me over. Bravo to you and your students! I am impressed. Your students are digitally global. Their little eyes are opening to a big world, to which they are important citizens.

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