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Social Media Versus Deep Learning: Is There a Balance?

By Justin Stygles
 | Aug 03, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-475963836_x300Social media changed the face of classroom instruction in ways we could have never imagined. Today, access to lesson plans, templates, and graphic organizers is easier compared with the days we anticipated the arrival of Highlights magazine.

Let me establish a scenario for you. I reluctantly embrace social media through Twitter. Some of my younger colleagues eagerly embrace Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. I enjoy reading scholarly journals as a means to consider instructional possibilities. My younger colleagues, however, go to Teachers Pay Teachers as their means to discover new instructional possibilities.

Teachers Pay Teachers offers convenience. Someone has already labored over—and theoretically found success from—the construction of instructional materials and resources. With a nominal fee, teachers can readily access and employ resources that might have, otherwise, taken hours to create.

Pinterest, as another example, offers expediency. Teachers can spend a night in front of a screen sorting, tagging, and pinning potential ideas for tomorrow’s instruction and feel accomplished. Further, several new teachers feel Pinterest is often their saving grace in a time of need.

Case in point: A young teacher has not yet developed his or her capacity to instruct with whole-class novels, like Walk Two Moons. Using Pinterest, a young teacher can turn to activities on literary elements, story arcs, or symbolism (as examples); find literal comprehension questions; and locate templates that students can use during their reading. In other words, Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers offer immediate solutions and a tremendous state of relief. Who can argue with relief? Instant access on Pinterest is quite different from the hours I spent cuddled up in the corner of the school library combining Highlights for ideas on how to teach Among the Hidden.

The conflict regarding social media’s role in the classroom, to me, is not availability or access, but investment, but the personal investment—the intellectual stock—in one’s teaching career.

Let’s consider financial investment. 

In 2015, I spent roughly $1,000 in professional texts and journals, not including the seemingly unlimited resources available through Twitter and blogs. I consider reading as an investment in one’s professionalism. Reading inspires innovation. Inside the journals, texts, and blogs are my notes that include clarifications, realizations, and innovations.  The next instructional idea is always taking shape. After lessons, I couldn't help but think about how kids responded and what adaptions I could make. 

I have a friend who, in 2015, spent more than $1,000 on Teachers Pay Teachers. He had worksheets for every lesson, all aligned with the Common Core. But I’m not so sure he became a better teacher. Even when we collaborated, I was never quite sure he built off anything he learned. In other words, I know he scored the worksheets and graphic organizers, but did he really aim for deep learning?

Personal investment and devotion to instructional design lasts because of the creativity you bring to the table and the authenticity of your instructional intent. I am afraid “Pinterest-based” strategies displace the pride of originality with the veiled satisfaction of having fulfilling a task. With the instruction developed through practice and adapting evidence-based strategies, you have a constant, interactive method of learning. I cannot say I’ve had same feeling applying “Pinterest-based” strategies.

Many of us already feel our autonomy and creativity is displaced by demanding policies. The greatest asset every teacher has is his or her creativity and originality. Enhancing your creativity by studying evidence-based strategies, collaborating with peers who challenge traditional thinking, and reflecting on implementation of your student-specific strategies will create the confidence and autonomy you desire. Does Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers offer you that same opportunity?

Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher at Guy E. Rowe Elementary school in Norway, ME. He has taught for 13 years at the intermediate level and in various summer program settings. He is currently working on a book with Corwin Literacy about self-conscious emotions.

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