Skip to main content

Risky Teacher

     Taking risks has never felt like a natural part of my personality. I don't typically blaze my own trail. I look for the safe, the comfortable, the experiences I can control.
     This is as true in my professional life as my personal. However, this risk-averse tendency is often in conflict with another aspect of my character: the desire to improve myself--to improve my craft. This desire manifests in my classroom with my career-long need to create new units and lessons (or, at the very least, to repeatedly revise old ones). One of the greatest challenges and joys of teaching is that no lesson or unit ever feels like it's done. There is always room for improvement. I have come to believe this is how it should be--that this constant cycle of creation and revision is actually the hallmark of any teacher who is experiencing moments of greatness.
     On the other hand, I don't endorse change simply for the sake of change. I pursue the new when I see the potential for it to be better than the old. This premise is particularly relevant when it comes to using technology in the classroom. I am not interested in using technology just because it's the latest, coolest thing to do. I want to use technology when it will make my classroom more effective, when it is pedagogically sound, and when it allows me to improve instruction and increase learning.
     And so, I come to the Twitter experiment. 
     On Monday (October 13th), I am going to integrate Twitter into my usual Socratic Seminar method. Simply put, Socratic Seminar is a student-led discussion. Specific protocols exist for the Socratic Seminar, and, like many teachers, I have tweaked this protocol to suit my classroom. 
      I typically use Socratic Seminar as a discussion protocol at the conclusion of teaching a classroom novel. In my classroom it works like this:
  • The day before the seminar, each student generates a specific number of discussion questions (typically 5). They also answer their own questions in writing (or trade questions with a partner and answer his or her questions). 
  • On the day of the seminar I create an inner circle with enough desks for half of my students. As students enter the classroom, I let them decide whether to sit in the circle or outside of the circle (they know that eventually everyone will be in the circle).
  • Before the seminar begins, I review expectations and etiquette (all of which has evolved over the years, and will undoubtedly continue to evolve):
    • participate
    • hand raising is optional (because some students just can't give it up)
    • speak one at a time
    • look for ways to bring others into the discussion
    • disagree in an agreeable way
    • students outside the circle silently observe, listen, take notes, adding to their previous questions and answers, etc.
  • The inner discussion begins with a volunteer posing a question, and it continues until I call for a rotation from inner to outer (and vice versa, of course).
For more than a year I have contemplated adding a Twitter component to this process. For more than I year I have let my fears of what could go wrong stop me. For more than a year I have been unable to dismiss the idea that my Soc Sem could be better, if I could engage that outer circle in a more authentic, more interactive form of feedback.

(As a sidenote, I know that a lot of teachers have effective ways of engaging that outer circle--often asking them to evaluate the participation of a particular member of the inner circle. If that is working well in your classroom, kudos to you.)

So here is the somewhat-fuzzy, work-in-progress plan for Monday:
  • The inner circle will proceed as usual.
  • The outer circle will still be silent and they will still be able to pursue the kinds of activities they have always pursued. But now they will also "live tweet" the inner circle discussion.
    • I will have my Twitter account projected on the whiteboard, with the feed set to our class hashtag: #robertsAP15
    • Outer circle students will be asked to use their phones or other devices to tweet at least three times. 
    • I will offer suggestions for the content of these tweets: quote someone whose comment resonates with you (basically a version of retweeting), quote and add your own idea or your own counter-claim (retweet and edit), ask a follow-up question, answer a question currently being discussed.
    • I will provide eight chromebooks for those who have a twitter account but no smartphone.
    • For those who don't have (and don't want) twitter, I have two options in mind:
      1. write your tweets on the whiteboard using a marker
      2. write your tweets on sticky notes or your own paper to be turned in to me later. (I see this as an option for those students who sometimes feel intensely reluctant about going public with their writing or their ideas. I like to think this option is one that I can gradually eliminate.)
Call me crazy, but this just might work. Or it might be a horrible, chaotic mess. 

Just to up the ante, I have invited my administrators to come watch, as well as a few colleagues.

I promise to write a follow-up blog entry, regardless of the outcome. Heck, I might even do some live tweeting myself :)


  1. This is a great idea- I've done this as an adult in training, and hope to do it with my students this month!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Believe in Your Seed

Twenty-five years ago, she was a student in my 10th-grade English class in Kellogg, a small mining town in Idaho’s panhandle. Now, she is an educator herself  — an elementary teacher in the same large district where I teach high school English. And today, she stood in front 3000 employees of the Boise School District and delivered a keynote address. Her speech was, to say the least, inspiring. It was expertly crafted — full of story, wit, insight, and charm. Her delivery was seamless, vivid, funny, and, quite frankly, better than any such talk I have heard in 31 years of opening meetings. (I say this as someone who is particularly passionate about public speaking. In fact, public speaking has become one of my greatest passions — both as a teacher who helps students craft presentations, and as someone who dreams of doing exactly what Sonia Galaviz did today.) As she spoke, I experienced her speech on several levels. I was the veteran teacher inspired by a somewhat younger t

Love: the Ultimate Pedagogy

I did not intend to love them; I did not particularly want to love them. I was never the bright-eyed rookie teacher out to change the world, one student at a time. I thought my job was to do the serious work of scholarship and academia. I was a professional — a high school English teacher. I was Miss Roberts, not your cookie-baking, kid-loving aunt.  But against my will and what I thought was my better judgment, I began to discover that I did love my students. At first I thought it was a surprising, pleasant side-effect of hanging out with the same people every week for nine months, but I did not consider it a valuable part of teaching. It seemed too flaky, too silly to even say out loud. The pivot point came after I changed schools, 15 years into my career. I loved my first job at Kellogg High School, my beloved hometown, but for a variety of reasons, in year 16 I made the move to the big city of Boise, 400 miles away. The transition was excruciating. I might as well have been

I'm Counting

I can picture myself as a preschooler (back when preschool literally meant "before school"), discovering that I could count all the way to 100. What a joyful revelation! Forty-some years later, counting is still an important part of my life. I find comfort and joy in numbers.  I love watching the balance on my mortgage go down--even though it moves very, very slowly. And budgeting night is something I look forward to every month. In fact, I've been known to use it as a reward for myself: grade 20 essays and I get to budget! When I have a pile of essays to grade I make stacks of five or ten (depending on how long the essays are), and I give myself a reward for every stack (10 minutes to eat or watch television, for example).  To manage those really big jobs (like the senior research papers, which take about an hour each) I use a quota system. Once upon a time I thought grading 15 research papers in a week was a reasonable quota, but then my AP numbers grew