The BigSoWhat? – Why tweeting is good for a teacher’s soul
I’ve spent the past week doing four things. I have:
* Been prepping our classic boat for the sailing season
* Following the peripatetic Think Global School as they get into their third and final trimester for this academic year
* Become thoroughly obsessed with the educators who inhabit Twitter
* Spent many hours pondering how we educate our children.
I have also found that Michael Gove, the widely, roundly and rightly reviled new Secretary of State for Education in the UK, has accidentally managed to introduce one inadvertent benefit to teaching among the morass of disastrous foolishness.
In this first of two posts, I want to explore a few reasons why I have found following TGS so valuable and float the idea that Twitter is an ideal medium to have rounded and thoughtful conversations – despite, or possibly because of, the 140 character limit.
Those of you who know me personally may know that I spend a great deal of time publishing materials and working online with a variety of schools and colleges; most of what I produce is for use within those schools. This week, however, I’ve been feeling pretty tired after a long term. So, as it’s the Easter Holidays, I have bunked off from normal work and I have spent my time sharing thoughts and ideas with educators in completely different parts of the world. I’ve dug through mountains of ideas and explored wildly different educational systems and totally different approaches to how we help our children to learn. I have seen ways in which we, in the UK, are terribly behind other parts of the world in how we educate. And I have seen that we are miles ahead in other ways. It has been re-invigorating and re-enlightening.
Over the course of the week, I have had the privilege to share a very enjoyable twitterversation ™:-) with Lin Cheng, (@becomeFORREST (http://twitter NULL.com/becomeFORREST), IB Mandarin Teacher) and the Think Global School (@TGSThinkGlobal). They are in Michigan and Beijing respectively so the conversation has crossed at least a dozen time zones and has, necessarily, involved quite a lot of thinking time between tweets. The topics have been varied but, as TGS has recently landed in Beijing, they have loosely revolved around China, Chinese culture and language.
In the conversation we have meandered from cultural perceptions of walls and boundaries to how proverbs reflect language and culture and we have then returned to base via haggling in markets and methods to eliminate light bulbs with nun-chuks.
It has obviously been enjoyable…but there’s a lot of technology used out there in education which doesn’t deliver real and tangible benefits for learning. So I habitually ask myself the BigSoWhat? question.
BigSoWhat? if we know about what people in another school in Beijing are doing? Why are they tweeting about what’s going on anyway? How can what their students are doing be of any interest or use to me or my students?
Reading back on the tweets we have shared this last week, I was faintly disappointed at first as I realised that, if an outsider were to read the text of the tweets, there is not that much said really… Yet I am aware that I have done an enormous amount of thinking and reflecting this past week! In between each tweet I have pondered, processed and paraphrased the topics under discussion. And at the end of that process, my thoughts have been summarised in these short 140 character comments to my fellow conversees.
Incidentally, if you take this approach when arguing with your wife/husband/partner of only delivering a short pithy phrase after hours of sulking it doesn’t work at all well. Not that I have any personal experience of this kind of poor communication – oh no… Fortunately, in this professional context with fellow educators, it works perfectly as we are all trying to communicate on a positive level and are using the tweets simply to explore new ideas and share our individual explorations collaboratively. The tweet becomes a summary point, a node if you like, in an ongoing personal think.
And it is the personal thinking process where I do my learning and where my students might do their learning.
There are two points which arise out of all this.
1. That the death of the art of conversation has been much exaggerated, it has merely moved place of residence from the dinner table to the interweb
2. That conversations lead to ideas and ideas lead to questions and questions lead to learning…
The three parts of the conversation we have had might be broken down in the following way; each of which is potentially critical to a satisfactory final outcome.
For each conversational thread:
* TGS provides the catalyst, a nugget of info from their time in Beijing.
* Myself and Lin Cheng are then the main protagonists. We bat around ideas freely until we have arrived at an educationally useful coalescence
* The ideas are then flung out – hopefully in the form of an interesting question for the TGSers in Beijing to think about in their educational explorations.
At the same time Lin and I have advanced our own understanding of the world and what might make an interesting topic within our own classes.
It is probably true to say that in most face to face conversations, there is relatively little time to think and digest. Something is said, the other responds and, all the while, there is the background chatter in the brain as you think about what was just said. Eventually, the conversation ends and, later on, you think of all the things you might have said…if only you’d had the time to think of them…
Perhaps, therefore, twitter is a better way of conversing?
Each time you tweet, you have had time to think. To ponder. To assimilate. To work out whether what you are saying is true, relevant, useful and pithy…
To bring this back to the BigSoWhat? and something concrete and educationally related: are these not key skills we want to promote in our students?
* Considerate response
At the end of this week, I have come to a deeper and more exciting view of how I can use twitter in my classes’ exploration, reflection and evaluation sessions. I feel excited about the idea of helping my students learn how to précis down their thoughts into 140 characters, how to get the gist of what they need to say across in tiny, meaningful chunks, to bat around ideas between each other until they come up with a question to relate to their work. In other words, they will have truly thought about their work and how to improve it next time. This sounds like real learning to me.
Has all this personal reflection and exploring and re-invigorating come about just because TGS in Beijing took the time to let us know about what they are up to with their students? Because Lin Cheng took the time to share his thoughts and wonderful humour with us? For me, sure it has. And along the way I hope I’ve added a little back in to my fellow conversees.
Plus, I feel ready to get back to school after the holidays and try out some new cool stuff! That’s chicken soup for my teaching soul.
(http://twitter NULL.com/home/?status=The+BigSoWhat%3F+%E2%80%93+Why+tweeting+is+good+for+a+teacher%E2%80%99s+soul+http%3A%2F%2Fis NULL.gd%2FFUSDBb)