Sunday, February 20, 2011

it's not the world that I am changing

Wow, the response to my last post about tweeting with the munchkins has been nothing short of overwhelming, in the best possible way. After 500+ page views in 3 days, I am a little nervous that NOTHING I write is going to measure up to that.

The attention drawn by that post has made me think A LOT about my online presence. While I do not use my real name here, my real name is "out there." In the last few weeks, all 4 kindergarten classes at my school have created Twitter accounts, and my school community is increasingly aware of my involvement with a Twitter-based PLN of kindergarten teachers. After some soul-searching, I shared my last post (and some other posts ABOUT my post), with my boss. That post may lead to other collaboration opportunities, and collaboration with other ACTUAL PEOPLE does not lend itself well to remaining anonymous... And, of course, at the same time as I was wrestling with all of this, along came the case of Natalie Munroe, who was suspended from her teaching position due to things she wrote in her blog...

So, I have made some changes. I have carefully re-read and re-worded and re-thought anything that mentioned my colleagues, my students, or their parents. While every single word I have ever written here has always come out of love: for the children, and for the profession of teaching, that same love has compelled me to reconsider how to use this space.

It breaks my heart a little - telling honest, messy, complicated, joyful stories about CHILDREN was what compelled me to start a teaching blog in the first place. Writing out my struggles is a tremendous coping tool for me, and I received positive, precious feedback from others who read those stories. While I want to believe that anything I wrote about "my" kiddos always conveyed my heart-breaking love for them, I also love them too much to make them vulnerable here. I have kept the drafts of all of their stories, and perhaps one day will find a means to share them again, in a way that protects both the children and me (ideas, anyone?!).

The post about Twitter has opened up a world of possibility for me, and I am humbled by the recognition I have received for it. It is all a little tainted, though, by knowing that it has come at a cost.
For now: I am hopeful that my voice here will remain my own and that you will continue to read my stories... And, if you are a teacher who blogs: how are you dealing with all this? What is your approach to the questions  of anonymity and confidentiality? What are your thoughts about Natalie Munroe? Remember: anonymous or not, comments are like crack to bloggers!

Happy Sunday to all, and happy long weekend to many.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

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.