Got Social Media? That’s Classroom Engagement

There is a tendency for each generation to privilege the popular literacies that they grew up with and dismiss literacies embraced by subsequent generations. For example, those milk toast Nancy Drew mysteries in the 1950s were lambasted by adults for causing kids to distrust authority. Today social media is similarly targeted by teachers as a punchline for trivializing teen culture. But in an age where only four out of ten students are engaged (Gallup Poll, 2013), classrooms need to stop making kids’ affinities wrong, and draw upon those literacies which most engage teens.

Social Media Supports Student Engagement

In a landmark study discussed in Edutopia, Kristy Cooper identified “connective instruction” as having an impressive impact on student engagement. According to Andrew Martin, author of Building Academic Success: Eliminating Academic Fear and Failure, connective instruction occurs when teachers demonstrate the following dispositions:

          1) promoting relevance: relating content to students’ lives

          2) conveying care: understanding learners’ perspectives

          3) showing concern for students’ well-being: demonstrating knowledge of students’ lives

          4) providing affirmations: telling students they are capable of doing well; using praise, written feedback, and opportunities for success

          5) relating to students through humor: showing that you enjoy working with young people (not as a class, as individuals)

          6) enabling self-expression: connecting learning and identity by encouraging students’ expression of ideas, values, and conceptions of self

Each of these aforementioned engagement triggers can be enhanced through social media, as shown in the chart below.

Connective Instruction Teacher Behaviors How Social Media Can Support Connective Instruction
Promoting relevance When social media is used in a manner that underscores meaning making and play, kids are more likely to experience the content as directly relevant, purposeful, and interesting.
Conveying care Teachers can use social media as a lens to understand student priorities and perspectives through survey instruments like Poll Everywhere, SMS Poll, and also through online discussion forums.
Showing concern for students’ well-being Knowing what Youtube videos, Facebook memes, Vines, Tumblr, and Instagram creators that students follow is a good way of tapping into themes that matter to teenage learners. Following fifteen year old Jules Spector’s (@jules.spector) popular posts about feminist activism can clue teachers into social issues that students are concerned about. Likewise, the #Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter Twitter posts illustrate on-the-ground teen experiences of a national horror show often overlooked by mainstream media and sometimes misunderstood by teachers.
Providing affirmation Student blogs allow teens to feel listened to and appreciated by peers and teachers who take the time to comment on posts.
Relating to students through humor Funny or Die, The Onion, and The Oatmeal, might not feature 100% classroom-appropriate material, but much of it is smart, hysterical, and worth sharing and laughing about with teens.
Enabling self-expression In contrast to a twenty page report that no teacher really wants to read and no learner really wants to write, allow students to choose issues to explore on their own Tackk sites– Walmart workers rights, how to support transgender students, or what to consider when investing in bitcoins. Choosing their own subjects and publishing on the internet can lead to lifelong explorations of interesting issues.

Successful classrooms can exclude social media, but why not let students use these tools to connect to you and the discipline when teens find such experiences inherently engaging? Really, why not?

Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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