To snap or not to snap…

chalkboard snapchat
One of these things is not like the other… or are they?

More so than any other year, I’ve noticed my students using Snapchat to communicate with their friends. In some education article or another, I read recently that using Snapchat could actually be the most authentic form of communication that today’s teenagers employ: no text, no room to subtweet, barely any time to establish tone, just a simple picture (usually a selfie, and usually with a weird face).

Many of my colleagues scorn this behavior. “It’s destructive.” “It’s distracting.” “Their just sending inappropriate pictures to each other.” To be quite honest, I’m really sick of the “lock-it-down” mentality when it comes to tools that help student connect with the world in which they live. Really? It’s 2016. Instead, I think it’s about time that we start to find ways to leverage this desire our students have to be immediately connected to those around them.

I want to focus for a minute on the word “leverage”. I feel like I hear it used a lot in the my circles of education: “leveraging student success”, “leveraging faculty engagement”, so on and so forth. When I hear the word, I appropriately think of a lever. I think of a mechanism. An action. Something that pushes something else over the edge, shifting the weight. When I really consider it, I am genuinely interested in the power of a lever in my craft and discipline. Why? It can do great things. And most of the time, it’s already in place. We just need to find the means/urge to push it so it helps set positive force into motion.

I recently led a PD session in my district that I called “Creating a Culture of Connectivity.” Honest moment: I liked the alliteration. Another honest moment: I came up with the title an hour before I presented. However, I didn’t recognize the power of the title until I was knee-deep into the second of three sessions that I was leading that day. I was surrounded by colleagues: some I had met just that day (from another school in the district), and others I had worked with for several years. I had planned the session to just hit on a few tech tools that I had found useful, but I found myself talking about ideas I hadn’t planned on. Don’t worry… this post isn’t going to turn into some sort of a testimony about how I was moved to speak in tech-tongues (that would be cool), but I will say that I felt eerily comfortable sharing a potentially-dangerous idea with my colleagues: if we, the teachers, aren’t ready and willing to go to places outside of our comfort zone, how can we expect our students to be?

Today in class, in preparation for our mid year exam (a real-world task where @msbethhughes and I bring our classes together for book clubs, that’s another post), I gave some pretty simple directions. Here’s what I said:

“Create a quick review about a recent favorite choice book you read.”

I provided some guidance for my students, namely in how I wanted them to share this information with me: Padlet Backpack. I’m a huge fan. I use it all the time. I wrote about it last month… check it out here. My students know that they can use text, video, images, a slideshow, you name it to convey their review. They know the task, I provided a framework, they leveraged the tool to make it their own.

As the students go to task, I purposely gave minimal direction in order to see where they would take it. Guess what? Are you ready? They wrote words. That’s it. Even with my prodding, not one student was brave enough to record a video of themselves talking about their text. They all put a picture of (mostly of the book cover) but only did that because I told them too. I was so frustrated. The bell rang, they left seemingly unaffected by what I thought was an amazing lesson, and I sat alone at my front table and stared at the back wall.

As a teacher-learner, I’m curious about why my students will post videos and pictures of themselves on a social-media service to send to their friends, but will refuse to spend thirty seconds recording themselves talking about a book that they liked. I’m almost certain that there is an anxiety associated with this task: they don’t want to appear “uncool” by recording a video or themselves talking about their book, or creating an infographic.

So, here’s where I’m at: I want to challenge the norm that Snapchat (or other instant photo-sharing tools) are bad for kids. Sure, students use them inappropriately all the time. I think that it’s our responsibility as technophile teachers to teach, model and show students how these tools could and should be used to further connect them to their world, in a language that they are already fluent and comfortable speaking. I look forward to the challenge of continuing to craft a culture of connectivity in my classes.

See? I did it again. #englishteacherproblems

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