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When Students Are the Actual Teachers

Last spring Katie Benmar wrote an editorial, My Favorite Teachers Use Social Media: A Student Perspective, in Education Week. David Greene, a regular contributor for edCircuit, stumbled upon Benmar’s op-ed and wanted to provide his perspective as an educator. 


If teachers want to better understand how social media can affect a student’s desire to learn, they must first look inside the mind of a student.

When I entered high school this past fall as a freshman, I was like most students entering middle or high school. To us, everything feels unfamiliar—strange and new, full of promise. To succeed, we are told, we must do our homework and study for tests. This is true, but teachers often fail to give sufficient consideration to one important roadblock: social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Kik, Vine, and Snapchat all rule the lives of most middle and high school students. Walk through the halls of any high school during lunch or passing period and you’ll see a massive number of students with their eyes glued to their phones. More than nine out of every 10 teenagers has a social-media account.

Original piece in Education Week


Katie sure is right about one thing. Teachers must look inside the minds of their students. Social media usage is just one item to investigate as one looks inside that rapidly morphing environment. Good teachers have always looked inside the minds of their students to see how best to interact and get them to interact within a classroom. The fact that she says she still has teachers lecturing or using boring power points is more horrifying. I quote Katie,

“The PowerPoint presentations that most of my teachers have used in the past to give lectures and to instruct students are not especially beneficial. They’re not interactive or engaging. No wonder students’ minds wander, and they resort to social media as a means of keeping themselves entertained.”

This too is true:

The best teachers I’ve ever had have used technology to enhance learning.” 

The word that is most useful here is engagement. How does a good teacher not just use technology in all its forms in the best and most appropriate ways but how, under any circumstances, can a good teacher interest their teenaged tribe to truly engage in any lesson?

By the way, that also includes teaching them when NOT to use social media and how NOT to be distracted by technology. The point is for them to learn how to control it – not to have it control them. This came up when the Internet first hit students and they had to be taught how to know the difference between good sources and bad as well as how to know the difference.

To enhance learning is the key, not to be enslaved by it. That is the actual question here…. To what extent and under what circumstances can social media or any technology, including power points, smart boards, and all the technology Katie mentions be used to enhance learning?

For example, the study of these tools as social phenomena would be a great unit in a class in communications, ELA, Art, or social studies.

How would Shakespeare have used Twitter or Facebook? Hemingway? Steinbeck?  Poetry via 140 characters? Twitter Haikus?

I already know art teachers who have kids do Instagram and even Snap chat assignments. 

Take this one step further. Hmm, a psychology class? What do the ways people put Snap chats together say about the Snap chatters? What can we learn about someone based on the amount of social media time they spend during a typical day?

How has each of these affected history? The earliest forms of writing? Gutenberg’s printing press? Radio? Television? Wikipedia? Facebook? Google? Twitter….

Oh what a good social studies teacher could do with how Twitter has affected the Trumpster and politics 2016. Here are potential assignments. Create an ongoing Twitter conversation between Hamilton and Jefferson during the Washington Administration. How about a spy during World War 2 using Instagram? Maybe someone smuggled an I-phone into Auschwitz?

These questions can also be raised in a number of classes. How do these social networking apps affect work? Play? Education? Social life? Societal attitudes?

STEM? Duh! These are all math algorithms and electronic engineering. Do you smell projects based on the study of how they work at a variety of grade levels? I certainly do.

But here lies the rub.

All of this calls for curricular flexibility though. Does the Common Core allow for that while preparing for all those standardized tests? There is the conundrum!

Maybe Katie should take those issues on next. She’d be good!

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