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.
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.