Messaging - Tool of Engagement or Weapon of Mass Distraction?

10/12/2017 6:58:00 AM
To be or not to be? That is the question for some teachers when it comes to allowing messaging (text or instant) in the classroom. Many see it as a distraction, but young people often disagree. Innovative educators know that students own the learning, but at the same time, the educators are responsible for the success of their students. Therefore it is in everyone's best interest to review the literature and find out if instant/text messaging can indeed support student success.

Fortunately, I combed through more than a dozen articles and studies (several listed at the end of this post) so you won't have to. Here is what I've found.
 

The literature says...

 
Messaging can be a great way to communicate, connect, build a learning network, and improve literacy. However, it can also be a distraction resulting in students being less focused and productive if they are not guided in responsible use.
 

The verdict: Allow students to message

 
Letting your students have access to instant messaging can be great for you and them, if they learn to do this responsibly. This means being aware of the task at hand and knowing how to connect with those who can support productivity and reduce distractions from those who may get in the way. It also means discussing with students when certain writing styles and text speak are appropriate and when they are not. When doing this, keep in mind, you might not have all the answers? Students may have insights about communication styles and norms to which their teachers may not.
 

Messaging responsibly

 
Here are some overarching concepts to keep in mind.

In the 21st century our students have easy access to a powerful support network made up of experts, family, friends, peers, and others who share their interests. Messaging puts this network at every student’s fingertips so that it is no longer just the teacher students can turn to for learning, support, and motivation. Our job as educators is to help them use this power responsibly.  

Furthermore, messaging provides students an opportunity to practice reading and spelling on a daily basis. According to research , using initials and abbreviations and understanding phonetics and rhymes are part of messaging and they are also part of successful reading and spelling development.

Teachers also must be aware of and have a plan in place to address issues such as sexting and online bullying and have discussions and teach lessons concerning that as well. A good start are the social media guidelines and digital citizenship responsibilities developed by students and teachers in New York City.
 

Getting started

 

1) Discover

Ask students to share conversations they have had over messaging that supported their learning. Perhaps this was while working on a project where they were collaborating with others. Maybe they reached out to someone who could give encouragement or advice. Maybe the school principal messaged them to check in and make sure they were doing well. Work with students to be detectives finding lots of great examples of messaging.

While there are great examples of messaging, there are also examples where students have not messaged responsibly. Have students share those examples (anonymously if appropriate) and identify what they notice.
 

2) Discuss

 
Discuss with students what is acceptable when it comes to messaging. What type of messaging is responsible. What is not? What should students do when they or others are not messaging responsibly? What are some strategies to employ? Who should you reach out to if there is a message that makes you feel uncomfortable. What are some techniques and when might you want to turn notifications off?
 

3) Document

Create a chart with messaging do’s, don’t’s and strategies. Post those in your classroom. Be willing to update and revise as new situations present themselves.
 

Is it worth it?

 
If you are willing to help students do messaging responsibly, you are setting them up not only for success when it comes to learning, but also for success with strategies for life. Not only that, but professor and linguist, David Crystal reminds us of this:  
 
“The best texters, are the best spellers.”
“The more you text, the better your literacy scores.”
“The earlier you get your mobile phone, the better your literacy scores.”
“What is texting?  Texting is writing and reading.”
“The more practice you get in writing and reading, the better writer and reader you will be.
 

The Standards

 
Need help convincing administrators? Let them know that instant messaging aligns to numerous standards of the International Society for Technology Educators:
 
1 Empowered Learner
1c Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
2 Digital Citizen
2b Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices
7 Global Collaborator
7a Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.
7b Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.
7d Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.

Further reading

 

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

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