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Twitter or: how I'm learning that social media is my friend.

Hands up if you have ever overheard a conversation or received an email or text message from, say, someone aged between 10-18, and rolled your eyes at the incredible disregard for language conventions? OK, keep your hand up. Hands up too if you have read Twitter or Facebook statuses that make you cringe due to their laughable misspelling? If you could see me, I'm the weirdo sitting here with both of my hands in the air. To be fair, it is not just people in this age bracket who make these mistakes. However, for the purposes relating to our profession we will pick on this group.

A common anger grenade is often thrown by teachers and parents at social media, blogging and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and Facebook in reaction to their perceived role in the downfall of young people's literacy skills. When I challenge such opinions, I have more often than not found that there is little validity in adults' view that these forums of self-expression are the reason that young people have a weak grasp of language conventions. People do not knowingly misspell a word, leave out correct punctuation or fail to apply correct grammar.

Young people (early puberty and onwards) are very conscious of what they say and how they say it. They always have been. Their excusable, slightly egocentric nature is geared towards saying the right thing at the right time (being cool) with the fear of being rejected by their peers being ever present. The same can be said of their writing. Young people, like all people, are generally conscious of what they write in the same way they are of their talking. Any errors in their writing are not the result of tweeting too much; they are the product of a lack of language awareness. The common misconception is that it is the other way around.

Now I'm not going to say who is to blame, nor is there anyone really to blame. Let's focus on the positives of this problem. Students today have more of a reason to write than ever before. Instantly publishing your work online, where literally anyone can read it, is quite an awesome result of social media. I love the fact that these existing models of writing exist. Teachers should be embracing these mediums and incorporating them into our classroom practice. We should use some of the rules of these new-media outlets as a platform for writing in class. Think of Twitter as the new haiku or an extension of the six-word story--you only have 140 characters to tell a story or get your message across.

The creation of students' work that is instantly publishable in the above mentioned and similar new-media outlets, such as iTunes song reviews and online news articles, is exciting. One of the common warnings about the Internet that we bestow upon children is that when you put something 'out there' it stays there. There is a positive side to the everlasting nature of online publishing too.

How great is then that any work published online is accessible by nearly anyone, anywhere, at any time (of course, there are certain matters of confidentiality and privacy to consider, but careful planning, consideration and consultation can eliminate those problems). Students can easily share their work with friends and family. This creates something that I'm really big on too--classroom transparency. Parents have a window into the classroom that they are rightfully entitled to. Students are left with a piece of work that they can potentially keep for the rest of their lives, or at least casually look back on in the following few years with a sense of pride, funny-but-quiet embarrassment or casual reminiscence.

It is important to remember that, no matter what your position is on social media, for young people it is amongst the most common mediums in which they write regularly. A survey in January of this year calculated that there are 11,784,460 Facebook and 2,200,000 Twitter users in Australia, with an incredible daily average of 1.4 million tweets per day. Given, many of those tweets are as easily forgettable as they are laughable. But their occurrence signals the incredible use of social media as a platform for writing.

I know that in my experience and conversations, social media splits most teachers into two distinct camps: those of us who see its potential as a tool for learning and those who prefer the days before it existed. I can understand and appreciate the opinion either way. Twitter and other social media can be the world's worst headache for teachers. It can also be a goldmine for shaping good teaching practice. In the instances that I use it, I'm not altering much of my English and literacy lessons at all. I am merely providing a way for students to express their ideas, thoughts and opinions within forums they are increasingly more familiar with.

Teachers: keep teaching language conventions as you do. Students will need this knowledge and understanding as their lives (personal and professional) become more entwined in and dependent on social media. Just don't dismiss its role in their lives and its potential as a learning tool. I hope that one day soon, cries of 'thank God for <insert relevant social media platform here>' will come from the majority of teachers and we'll wonder what we ever did before social media.

Garreth Wigg is a Year 3 classroom teacher at St Gregory's Primary School, Queanbeyan. After completing his Bachelor of Education (Primary), he taught in London, and has since his return taught in NSW state and Catholic schools. He was a State finalist in the 2012 ASG NEiTA inspirational teaching award, as well as being nominated for the 2012 Australian positive teacher of the year award. He is currently completing a Master of Education (ICT and leadership).
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Author:Wigg, Garreth
Publication:Practically Primary
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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