At a recent education conference I discussed a simple yet powerful strategy…frontload your lessons with social media. Here’s how it works.
First of all, you need some way for your students to communicate online (or via texting). So, I’m focusing on students who are older than elementary school but use your own judgment how far down you can take this. If you don’t have a way for students to communicate, there are numerous options that don’t involve any sign up. For example, you can use TodaysMeet to setup a Twitter-like environment in which students communicate. Or try TypeWith.Me where you can create a real-time collaborative document. Of course if you have a Moodle site, wiki or any other collaborative tool…use it.
Next, introduce a topic that will be discussed the next day and assign an online discussion as homework. For example, this could be a discussion about the next chapter of a book or even how to prove a geometric theorem. How you determine groups will be dependent on the tool you use. The entire class can get in on a message board discussion such as Moodle. TypeWith.Me and TodaysMeet might be better for smaller groups. If you are using texting (by the way, students won’t believe that their homework is to text) then assign partners. Keep the instructions simple at first. Here’s an example assignment:
Go to this URL and have an online discussion. Your topic is symbolism in “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
The topic that always comes up is what to do about chat-speak and other bad online grammar. The interesting thing is, if you make this assignment a regular event, the grammar starts taking care of itself. Older students start self-policing. So, try this without making any rules about grammar and see what happens. After a few weeks it should start getting better. You can always add a “use good grammar” rule if necessary.
Finally, you need to assess whether or not the classroom discussions are more meaningful with the frontloading the night before. This takes time so give it a good test run. When the frontloading becomes a habit it becomes an extension of the lesson before it even happens.
This concept may seem simple but the results I have seen are amazing. Students come to class ready to have thoughtful discussions and are eager to share their online interactions. Give it a try and let me know what you think.