Social networks are controversial topics in schools. Much has already been written about the pros and cons of trying to integrate various social network sites into the classroom and I don’t really intend to add to this debate a great deal. I’m aware of the issues, the risks and the importance primarily of ensuring that pupils are aware of how they can be at risk as well.
What is certain though is that social networks are a fact of life, something used daily by probably 99% of the pupils we teach and to my mind it is important to find where they can be useful to improve pupils’ education and in our case, language skills. With a bit of care, there can be various benefits to the language teacher and student using social networks, and I am going to deal with how twitter can be used.
AS A TEACHER
I originally joined twitter more out of curiosity rather than anything else and didn’t really see the immediate benefits apart from it being a status update type site, or somewhere where you could find out what celebs were up to. Our MFL HoD then organised a summer competition to see how could get the most followers on twitter and I began to look into it, and began to establish a network with other language teachers and cricket coaches.(note, I won the competition but the HoD has yet to come up with the prize, a nearly full academic year later…) I should say straight away that i am @pedroelprofesor on twitter, feel free to follow if you don’t already!
This connection with fellow teachers is hugely beneficial. You can share resources, ask for advice, chat about problems and discuss issues with people doing the same thing as you across the world. Within maybe an hour of putting a question out on twitter, you may have several replies giving you ideas and help, and this can be incredibly useful. Once you have established a link with a couple of teachers, you get suggested the chance to link to various others and your network will grow increasingly.
A good place to start is by using hashtags (#) to follow topics. One of the best to start with is #mfltwitterati and other good ones are #flteach and #spanishteachers and there are certainly various others worth searching out. When you search for this, you will see a list of recent tweets by people using these hashtags. You can then follow regular contributors. Also you could just use the search facility to find other language teachers. The more people you follow, the more will follow you, particularly if you include in your profile about the fact you are a teacher. Retweeting messages, favouriting posts and commenting or replying plus regular tweets yourself will start to grow your network. Through using twitter I have got to know quite a few other teachers personally, and have gone on to meet them at Language events such as Language Show Live. I have benefitted quite a lot already from using twitter, and not ust to publicise this blog either!
I have followed a lot of Spanish language magzines, newspapers, radio stations and so on that give very regular headlines. This can be a quick and easy way of finding and up to date article as well as just keeping up to date about what is going on in the Spanish speaking world. Some good ones include: @Madridiario, @la_informacion, @TelemundoNews, @milenio, @muyinteresante, @publico_es, @CNNEE and @el_pais, amongst many many others.
A good idea is to use Tweetdeck to organise your tweets. You can create lists for common hashtags, and easily find tweets on these topics, rather than having to scroll down for ages. (I tend to use this more on my smartphone for some reason more than my laptop, but it is good!) Creating a list for news sources for example could give you an easy filler at the start or end of lessons, just showing the latest Spanish news tweets for instance and getting pupils to find out and translate news headlines. A quick translation (remember tweets are only 140 characters long maximum) and a quick way for pupils to be more aware of what is going on in the target language country.
You can also use twitter to remind pupils of homework, give news and pass on links they might use. As with all things, you will have to get pupils to subscribe to the service first and show them how it works.
FOR THE PUPIL
Here is a quick list of ideas:
There are various receptive benefits, particularly on who might be worth following. 6th form students could follow newspapers and magazines such as those mentioned earlier. They can also follow Spanish speaking celebrities such as footballers, musicians or actors. Famous Spaniards on twitter include footballers such as Cesc Fabregas (@cesc4official), and Carlos Puyol (@carles5puyol), and actors such as Gael Garcia Bernal (@GaelGarciaB).
In terms of productively, you can use hastags to to get pupils to write on certain topics, and just to produce regular language. 140 characters is a quick and easy amount to produce and you may get a bit of a trend developing as other pupils look to see what other classmates have produced.
Some other links as to how Twitter can be used are as follows:
http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2011/12/60-inspiring-examples-of-twitter-in-the-classroom/ (not just language specific)