@GiraffeClass: Twitter with 5 year olds



I have been on Twitter for just over a year now and continue to find it the most amazing resource. It’s like a virtual staffroom where I can access a stream of links, opinions, ideas and resources from an interesting and informed group of fellow educators world-wide. For someone working in additional support needs, dotting between 42 schools, it’s the staff room I most frequently inhabit.


And it’s a very special staffroom as there I find people all passionate about their area of interest, keen to learn and share – and support. One could not say that about all physical staffrooms! I have learned more about how to enhance my teaching this year than ever before through Twitter.

It’s educational (and a bit of social!) networking at its very best.

I hadn’t however given any thought to using Twitter with youngsters. Thanks to @literacyadviser I recently came across a fabulous connection to a class of 5 and 6 years olds who are Tweeting, @GiraffeClass. I gather that a different child has the responsibility to record what the class has been doing that day – as you can see from the screen shot.

What a wonderful idea. How delighted the parents must be to see such immediate evidence of thinking and writing and how valuable for the teacher to have such data.

This demonstrates to the little ones and their families how their literacy skills are developing. It is also a great method of showing how connected we all are today. Tweeting must also develop the children’s media literacy skills: ‘viewing, analysing and discussing a wide range of texts and using available technologies to create text in different formats’.

Later on, the discipline of the 140 characters will help the children to be precise in their writing, teaching them in a very real and unthreatening way that revision of ideas and careful word choice is essential to get your message across. It also encourages development of keyboard skills. Feedback (I don’t really know how that works with Giraffe Class to be honest) can be immediate. There’s nothing more exciting than having your thinking validated by a comment – especially if it’s from someone you haven’t met!

Finding this cheered me up no end!


Thinking Out Loud


True wit is nature to advantage dress’d

What of was thought but ne’er so well expressed. (Pope)

My understanding of the nature of inner speech, which I wrote about here, has been further devloped by a thought provoking article from Charles Fernyhough.

Charles writes that Twitter is his ‘line to the outside world’.

As well as the ‘inevitable distraction Twitter offers’, he finds it incredibly useful as a research tool. I heartily endorse this: every time I go on to Twitter I find at least half a dozen links that send me to resources that are fascinating, instructive, practical, sometimes funny or poignant – though not always at the same time. These undoubtedly enhance my learning. I think it is the very best form of  personalised CPD.

Charles adds: ‘I suspect that I also use Twitter to think out loud’.  He continues reflecting on the nature of children’s private speech which:

seems to be their medium of thinking before verbal thought becomes internalized. I wonder whether I use Twitter for some of the same purposes. Talking to yourself seems to have many different functions, for adults as well as children. For one thing, it can express feelings. Many of children’s private utterances seem to have a function in emotion expression and regulation. I don’t have any data on the topic, but I suspect that a decent proportion of tweets involve people saying that they are happy, sad, excited or angry. A comment like ‘Wow, I wish this delivery guy would show’ can get a frustration off your chest while clearing mental space for the next thing. …

Just as importantly, the medium can be used to think through a problem. … Just putting it down in words seems to get me somewhere. When I want to tweet about something I’m grappling with, I find it amazingly useful to push myself to express it clearly in 140 characters. Stripping it down forces me to work out what I want to say.

I often don’t know what I think until I articulate it: this for me is generally in writing rather than speech. Charles describes this:

When I looked back at what I had just posted into the ether, I realized that I had finally succeeded in expressing my question clearly.

He says that private speech is

a tool for communicating with the self. Once we have moved on from private speech in the classroom or playground, Twitter and other online media make possible that same conjunction between private and public thought. …

Because Twitter is a medium that allows thinking to be shared, it gives you an impression that you are contributing to a thought process that extends beyond you. ..

Amid all the media storms about the evils of online social networks, it might be worth asking whether these digital obsessions can sometimes do us some good.

Thanks Charles for articulating my thoughts so much more lucidly than I could! ‘Just putting it down in words seems to get me somewhere’.

If you’re interested in early child development do take a good look at Charles Fernyhough’s lovely book, The Baby in the Mirror.

Twitter: a continuing conversation

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An article by John Naughton  coincided with a conversation with a colleague to induce me to try Twitter.

Naughton wrote about Retweeting:

One of the most intriguing and useful features in Twitter is the “retweet” facility. If you see something in your tweetstream that you think might interest others, then you can click a button to make it visible to the people who are following you.

 As it happened Nigel  had tweeted about a post I had written. He showed me how someone else had picked this up, retweeted and spread my message, not quite like wildfire but a brisker flame than otherwise.

Reader, I was intrigued.

I took the plunge last week. It was a leap into the unknown but several people have urged me to join this networking phenomenon assuring me that I would find it worthwhile. I am not a very sociable being so was uninterested in linking to superficial chit-chat that many of us associate with these sites (Facebook being another – I belong to keep an eye on what my daughter’s up to!).

At the same time I am questioning the effectiveness of traditional teacher professional development as I sit at work on an in-service training day with little of relevance to me going on in the school where I am based.

Could the formation of groups of educators on Twitter be thought of as communities of practice, and can the learning constructed by these groups be thought of as professional development?

I am not looking for a one-off day where, despite research into learning, I am subjected to transmission based teaching methods from a speaker or presenter who ‘delivers’ a presentation. The knowledge accrued is then expected to transform my practice in the classroom. This traditional teacher professional development, despite being ineffective, is also costly in time and money.

This has as many implications for the quality and nature of the CPD I offer to my colleagues as for my own professional development.

Education concerns exploring new ways of being. A major topic of interaction among the microblogging educators is how we are to redefine education and schools for the 21st century. I want to be a part of the conversation. I am grateful to  Jo McLeay for her scholarly exposition of the subject.

She shows it is well established that communities of practice play a huge part in knowledge construction and sharing – and of course it’s not any more just about newcomers to a community learning from old timers. Membership of communities of practice allows learners to collaborate, to develop new knowledge and to develop and learn about new resources. Learning is an outcome of participation.

The three attributes, ‘mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire’, are key ways to differentiate communities of practice from teams or groups.

Communities of practice are not – and should not be – static but subject to evolution. My own evolution – at least 5 years behind the techies – reflects this premise.

I have been skeptical about the nature of social networking: I don’t really want to know the minutiae of what my own family is up to let alone complete strangers!  However, I am beginning to understand that strong informal relationships necessary for true sharing – not just of resources and tips but of philosophy and fundamental beliefs – can occur once trust and confidence are established.

The community of educators that is forming on Twitter “fulfils the human desire for interaction” (McInnerney, p. 73), overcomes isolation, engenders a sense of belonging in a joint enterprise. Thus it is a source of influence, learning and identity.

Finally back to John Naughton who quotes a study clarifying that Twitter is a radically different form of social networking.

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology assembled a cluster of 20 PCs, collected the entire contents of Twitter for the month of July 2009 and then set their algorithms to analysing the resulting mountain of data.

One of the researchers’ conjectures concerned the number of “degrees of separation” one would expect between Twitter users. Ever since Stanley Milgram’s famous “six degrees of separation” experiments of the 1960s in which he showed that any two people on earth were separated by at most six hops from one acquaintance to the next, studies of social networks – both offline and online – have generally confirmed that figure. Given that only about a fifth of Twitter relationships are reciprocal, the Korean researchers conjectured that the degree of separation among Twitter users would be greater than six. But what their data showed is exactly the opposite: the average path-length in Twitter is just over four.

If you’re not into network theory, then the difference between six and four may not seem very significant. But if you’re interested in how news spreads around a network then it’s dynamite. Next to traditional, few-to-many broadcasting, Twitter is the fastest way to spread news and information. In fact, it’s the nearest thing the web has to wildfire. And the key mechanism that enables that is retweeting. The Korean researchers have found that this single facility generally enables any given message to reach a much bigger audience than those who are followers of the original tweet.

 We’ll see how it goes.