Miss Night's Marbles

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

Backtalk

on 12 November, 2011

Quite some time ago now, the Toronto Star published this article: How a Kindergarten Class Uses Twitter to Learn About the World, about my use of Twitter in my classroom.  It was tweeted and re-tweeted for a few weeks after it came out. Most of the response was overwhelmingly positive (I did a lot of blushing), but some of it was critical. Much of the criticism was along the lines of the Projects By Jen post I responded to in my own very first post about Twitter in kindergarten. This is a kind of criticism I can respect, as it comes from a place of honest reflection, and leaves room for ongoing dialogue.

One tweet, though, rankled, because it included an accusation of recklessness. I followed up with the tweeter (@ginrob_PT), and after some back-and-forth, he offered to write a blog post explaining why he thought my use of Twitter with my young students was dangerous. His post can be found here: Should Kindergarteners be Using Twitter?

I wanted to know what he had to say. I was honestly worried that he was going to present some incontrovertible evidence that tweeting with kindergarten was profoundly threatening to my students. I had already prepared myself to share the link to his post with my administrators, and to engage in a discussion that might lead to the discontinuation of our kindergarten twitter accounts. I was willing to cancel the entire Kindergarten Around the World project, which would have involved disappointing some 60 teachers all over the globe. THAT is how seriously I take my students’ safety.

Seeing his post on the screen, I was relieved. There was not an argument there that I have not encountered before.  The criticisms raised were not new, not scary, not earth-shattering. Furthermore, they were not even particularly TRUE. Indeed, I found (and still find) it hard to read his post without feeling like there was some deliberate misunderstanding of what Twitter use in kindergarten actually LOOKS like. That said, as this year’s round of Kindergarten Around the World begins to take flight, it seems timely for me to share my rebuttal.

So:


Argument #1: the “Terms of Use” argument.
It’s true. Twitter’s previous terms of use state that users had to be over 13. Their new terms of use require that users be able to “form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction. You may use the Services only in compliance with these Terms and all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations.” These new terms of use are considerably more ambiguous than that previous “13 and older” policy; however, even if they are interpreted as conservatively as possible, and taken to mean that only adults over the age of 18 can access Twitter… my situation with kindergarten is not in violation of those terms.

I created our class account. It is linked to my e-mail address. I approve every single one of our followers, and I choose who we follow. I type every tweet we send, and I read every tweet we receive (in advance of sharing it with the children). My students are not operating a twitter account when we tweet with our friends, any more than they are driving the car when they ride in the backseat, strapped into their car seats (to be clear, they do get considerable input into which roads we follow. More on this car metaphor later). They are not being let loose on the Great Wide Internet. The account was created and is completely managed by, me, a 30-something adult. If what I am doing is violating the terms of use, than so are parents who create twitter accounts to record the cute things their young children say, and pet owners who create accounts as if their golden retriever or Siamese cat were tweeting the minute details of life in their household.

Argument #2: the “You don’t really UNDERSTAND what you are DOING” argument.

This whole argument is condescending, and based on assumptions about me as a teacher and a person. Mr. Tucker never entered into dialogue with me about why/how/when I decided to use Twitter with  my students. He made no effort to get to know me as an educator or a user of social media. If you know me, if you get to know me, it becomes (I hope) very clear, very quickly, that I am a deliberate, intentional, and thoughtful, teacher and social media consumer. I do not dive into tools/toys/ideas/techniques simply because they are New! And! Shiny!, or because I talked to someone who was doing it. The decision to create a Twitter account for my class was made slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately, with much conversation with my administrators, my colleagues, my PLN, and my students’ parents.  My colleagues tease me constantly about my first response to any issue: “Let me do some research.”

And so, while I will not subject the entire Interwebz to the details of my process, let me just say this: I did the research, I did the reflection, I thought carefully about how/why/when to fit Twitter into our classroom culture and routines. My entire approach to teaching is tied to developmental appropriateness (backed by my graduate degree in child development), so Mr. Tucker’s argument that the Twitter environment cannot be cognitively understood by 5-year-olds does not hold water with me. My students understand Twitter as a giant bulletin board, where we post notes to our friends, and they post notes back to us. They know that what we post can be seen by ALL of our friends, and that what we post therefore needs to be kind, respectful, friendly, and safe. (This, honestly, is a better understanding than most adults have of Twitter, in my experience.) We talk about internet safety and digital citizenship, and I know that they “get” it, because they go home and tell their parents how “we have to choose our words carefully so everyone understands us, and we don’t have a lot of words, so we have to say what really matters most.” That seems pretty clear evidence of comprehension, to me.

My reasons for using Twitter in my classroom have never included the “eventual participation” argument referenced by Mr. Tucker. That said, I think it is sadly misleading (and deliberately melodramatic) to lump social media in with drinking or sexual activity. While there is NO appropriate way for kindergarten children to participate in either one of those activities, there are many appropriate ways for young children to reap benefit from careful, thoughtful, integration of social media into the educational environment. The third activity mentioned by Mr. Tucker as something “children will eventually do” is driving, and to that comparison, I will simply say this: an argument that children should not be exposed to Twitter until they are of an appropriate age to operate it independently is analogous to saying that children should not be allowed to ride in cars as passengers until they are old enough to drive. To continue that particular analogy, it would seem to me that children who ride in cars operated by careful thoughtful drivers, and who engage in conversations about road signs, traffic laws, and safe driving habits, are better equipped to become safe drivers, themselves.

In re-reading Mr. Tucker’s post, and this response, for the umpteenth time before clicking “publish,” what comes to me is this: Mr. Tucker opened his criticism with a tweet accusing me of recklessness,  and his post, while perhaps more diplomatic than his original tweet, remains essentially that: an accusation. It is one thing to say: “I have done the research and reflection, and I came to a different conclusion than this person.” It is entirely different to say: “Because I do not agree with this person’s decision, she clearly did NOT research and reflect.” The first builds a bridge to a  shared space for deeper understanding. The second builds a wall.

It is my sincere hope that this blog is, and will always be, more about bridges than walls. Respectful conversation makes us all better. Your thoughts and comments are welcome and encouraged, as always.


12 Responses to “Backtalk”

  1. […] up an account and go!” is woefully inadequate, and possibly negligent. As I have described in previous posts, my own decision to tweet with kindergarten was slow, thoughtful, deliberate. Your decision should […]

  2. Cbmcleod says:

    Thank you for sharing this with me. As I continue to think through this process for my classroom. I find the conversation very important and thought provoking. I will continue to stay posted with you and your kindergarten tweeters! I think it is an awesome journey to spark a global thinker.

  3. Angel Read says:

    I never read about your use of Twitter until now, but I think its a great idea! You are using social media to encourage kids to explore the world and learn so much. Social media is now a very relevant teaching method. One of the best (and first) examples I ever saw was a ten-year-old boy with severe dysgraphia and mild autism, whose mother was homeschooling him because school had become so anxiety-producing for him. She had him start his own blog, where he'd write about his experiences, and also write up interviews he did with people. There were people who said a ten year old had no business blogging… but he was writing, reading, communicating with others, etc, of course all under the careful supervision of his mother. I think you're doing a great job!!!

  4. Wow! Well, this was an intense first impression of you and your blog, I must say. This is my first time here and where I stand on this issue is actually arbitrary. I am just intrigued by the quality of content and conversation here and will definitely be back for more! Such a refreshing break from “fluffy” blogs. Thank you!

    I'm your newest GFC “friend”! I'm new to We Teach and just joined the “We're Bloggers” group. When you find a moment, I would love for you to do the same. You can find me at http://sofiasideas.com/

    Sofia's Ideas

  5. pacrapacma says:

    I think the way you are using twitter is with your class is good. Some people like to stir up conflict. You addressed this in a thoughtful and respectful way. I hope Mr. Tucker thinks twice before judging people in the future.
    I posted a video on Reddit this week and immediately got a mean comment. Here's the link to view the comment. Feel free to leave one of your own. http://redd.it/mc0km

  6. Aunt Annie says:

    Well, Miss Night, I'm not sure that Twitter is the sort of play experience that is most suited to the 5-year-olds that I know and teach and care for- most of them get a surfeit of screen exposure at home- but it seems to be working within your context, and you seem to have sensible controls in place. Context is such an important factor.

    And I like your spirited defence of your position. Well argued.

    I suggest that you and Mr Tucker might agree to differ at this point, because it's clear that neither of you is going to change the other's mind and you've both already put your case clearly. There is, actually, room for both views. Given that you've controlled the major risks of harm, it becomes a matter of personal pedagogy.

  7. Miss Night says:

    Patrick – I was back at your blog, and it seems you are no longer moderating comments. If this is the case, I congratulate you for it. I think you will find that it helps maintain a more steady flow of conversation, even when you are not logged in. I always love coming back to my computer to find that one of my posts has generated conversation, even in my absence.

  8. Miss Night says:

    Patrick – Based on my experience, linking to your blog here, and including you in my tweet of my blog post, is indication that I am indeed continuing a conversation. If I have violated some blogging courtesies of which I am unaware, I am truly embarrassed, and I apologize. I fully expected and hoped that you would read and comment on my response here. Having monitored the comments on your blog for some time, it seemed to me that the conversation there was (until this weekend) at a standstill. Furthermore, your decision to moderate comments is an impediment to any true dialogue. It delays the conversation, and allows you to formulate your own responses before any other readers can join the conversation.

    As for my tone being “dismissive” the simple fact is that I do not think your points are valid, nor are they grounded in deep understanding (your expression) of young children. You are not the first to criticize, and I have happily agreed to disagree with others. Your arguments are based on assumptions about lack of reflection/critical thought, and those assumptions about my classroom practice are profoundly wrong. It is obvious to me that you put tremendous thought and reflection into your own pedagogical decisions; I think I have provided you more than ample evidence that I do the same.

    It seems I somehow hit a personal nerve for you, and for that I am sorry. I stand by my statement to you from months ago: Respectful conversation makes us all better.

  9. I really don't know if I'm expected, or even welcome, to respond here. I'll write a brief one on the off chance that you want it. While I can see more of your point as this conversation progresses / progressed, I think it important to say that I still emphatically disagree with what you have said in your explanation and what you are doing in your class. Having learned more, I find my opinions largely confirmed…however, that was just “for the record,” as it were-no new arguments today…

    I am, however, a little taken a back. While I am clearly not an individual you want to have a conversation with or 'build a bridge' with, I find it odd that you criticize me for hampering discussions why making an obvious attempt to end ours. You post your response here instead of where the conversation was being hosted (you could have at least linked it – though true you mentioned me when you posted it to twitter); you are clearly talking to your PLN and not me; your tone is rather dismissive of me as is your language – I am clearly not intended to be even a part of your audience. I find it troubling that your message of building bridges and having conversations is at odds with your current (but not past) treatment of me…but I digress

    Enjoy your PLN; they seem active, committed, thoughtful. I'll stay on the outside if the wall you built from here on. Sorry about the 'reckless' comment; hopefully, you teach your students to forgive someone when
    They repeatedly admit that they made a mistake as part of their learning of good citizenship. We are all learning; I don't always get an A. If we 'meet' again, hopefully it will me under better circumstances…

    Mr Patrick Tucker

  10. Tasha says:

    I also congratulate you on your thoughtful and considered use of Twitter to help enrich the teaching and learning of your students. As educators, we have a responsibility to make the most of today’s technology to help students construct understandings about a rapidly changing world.

    Our students are growing up in an age when digital communication is increasing exponentially. Students today have access to vast amounts of information not available to previous generations. In order to make sense of this ever-increasing wealth of information, even our youngest students need to be taught to research and think critically as they analyze what they view so that they can draw their own, respectful conclusions; something Mr Tucker would have done well to consider.

    Right from Kindergarten, students must learn to be responsible digital citizens. They need to understand that there are multiple perspectives and that other people, with their different opinions, can also be right. Students need to know that a regrettable comment, as Mr Tucker has since described his, leaves a permanent footprint.

  11. honnilizee says:

    Great response to Mr. Tucker's tweet. I came upon his post a few weeks ago and I have been eagerly awaiting your response. I myself am a Kindergarten teacher and I sincerely hope that in the future I will be able to participate in your project. I was unable to this year because I am off on maternity leave but I can't wait for next year. I find that this project is an excellent way to demonstrate to students how to properly use the resources at our fingertips as well as a chance to show them that there are children like them all around the world: children who are interested in learning about new and exciting things. Thank you so much for initiating a project luck Kindergarten Around the World.

  12. TeacherMum says:

    Well said! Great analogies and well defended. I congratulate you on your use of Twitter in the classroom, your thoughtfulness in deciding to do it and for introducing it to so many educators. I see Kindergarten Around the World as an extension and much more real time version of pen pals that lets children experience children around the world in a way that is relevant to them and authentic. I think we, as adults, need to modify our teaching (and learning) to adjust to technology as our students will experience it. We need to adapt to suit them as this is the reality of life!

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