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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Using Social Media to Differentiate

I've been feeling guilty - all of my favourite teacher bloggers have been taking advantage of their time off and have been updating their blogs.  I've had a hard time getting off the couch!  On Christmas Eve I came down with a strep throat and am just starting to feel like myself today.  Since I've had nothing to do but lie around, I have been enjoying all of those blog posts!

One such post was by Royan Lee "The Power of Introverts~ Spicy Links."  Royan shared on his blog Susan Cain's TED talk "The Power of Introverts" along with links to his interview with her on her website.  Susan also has her new book out now - "Quiet: The Power of Introverts".

As we all know, one of the hallmarks of 21st Century Learning is collaboration.  Cooperative learning is everywhere.  Students collaborate on projects, discuss texts they've read to hash out meaning, co-write text, peer-edit, etc.  Susan Cain reminds us that it is not always the loudest or most vocal, however, that has the best ideas.  Most teachers realize this, and we often torture (and I don't think "torture" is an exaggeration) our introverted students begging them to share their ideas, because we know the rest of the class would benefit from their insight.  (Then we give them a level 2 for Oral Communication- which if we really were evaluating based on the Curriculum expectations we'd realize that Oral Communication is so much more than being able to speak publicly- but I digress.)

Royan's answer to this issue is Social Media. (I've been following his blog since I saw Lisa Donahue at Reading for the Love of It last February, and she mentioned him- one of the best things I ever did for my teaching practice!)

I found out how right Royan is when I began using Blended Learning this year.  Blended Learning incorporates a combination of face-to-face with on-line instruction.  We use the Ministry's Learning Management System the Desire 2 Learn (D2L).  Using the D2L has allowed me to use "Office Hours"- time when my students can contact me via the D2L outside of the regular school day.  Most of my students have taken advantage of this feature, but I find it is my shy students who use this feature most regularly.  One student explained that she has "so many questions" but is uncomfortable asking them out loud in class.  The D2L makes it easy for her to ask questions.

We have also been using the Discussion tool.  This tool has given those quiet thoughtful students an equal opportunity to have their voices heard.  Introverted students often like to think before they speak.  The fast pace of a group discussion doesn't allow for that.  They also aren't pushy enough to interrupt those extroverted students who know exactly how to have their voices heard.  Using the Discussion tool solves both of these issues - they can take as much time as they need to think before they "speak" and everyone has to "hear" them.

Social Media allows us to use cooperative learning while still considering the individual needs of our students. For some of my students, having to "write" their ideas into a Discussion Forum is painful; writing ANYTHING is painful.  The Discussion Forum on the D2L also allows students to compose their messages as an audio file.  Now that is differentiation!

I'm going to order my copy of Susan Cain's book today!


  1. I loved Susan's TED talk because it makes me slow down my push for continual collaboration and group work and think about how it affects the introvert. Some of the ways I've tried to hear and help all include giving students the option of working in groups of all sizes; including 1 and using a backchannelling program like Today'sMeet. I have found that bankchannelling during a presentation, activity or lecture is a safe place for shy students to have a say. I have received input using this method that I wouldn't normally get from quiet students.
    I will continue to evaluate my program based on the wisdom and insight of people like yourself and Susan Cain to improve the learning opportunities of all students.
    Thanks for your insight :)

    1. Yes, Susan Cain gives us much to think about as educators.
      I saw Heather Durnin at the ECOO Conference this fall, and she uses Today's Meet during a read aloud to capture the students' thinking as they are listening. We tried it a couple of times in our class, and it was quite effective, I think the students who are more passive listeners were quite surprised to find out what was going on inside the minds of their peers while they were listening. But the students found it difficult to follow both the text and the conversation on Today's Meet. I think we over-estimate our students' abilities to multi-task sometimes too. I find it challenging to find that balance between "enough" and "too much". Ultimately, it seems the best thing to do is to teach our students to be self-aware, and then give them voice. I'm trying to get into the habit of saying "What conditions will help you learn best right now?"


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