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Jumping into Social Media

Written by Nancy Devine
May 10, 2011

I couldn’t just stand on the shore waiting for the waves of social media to meet me, nor could I wade in only enough to get my feet wet. In order to create my digital profile as both a teacher and writer, I had to do more than merely test the waters. Really I’ve always had to go deep to transform my thinking, and this was no exception.

I knew I’d be okay. I’m a teacher, after all, a skilled learner myself, capable of synthesizing information and monitoring my own thinking, figuring things out, testing and re-testing assumptions against what I already believe. And I was motivated. I was finding writers online, mostly bloggers, who were interacting with their audiences without publishers or agents acting as go-betweens. That audience included me, someone who was getting swept up by the immediacy and thrill of instant publishing made possibly by simply click on submit once I’d made a blog comment. Writers weren’t the only ones getting published. I, an audience member, was getting published by clicking submit. If I had my own blog, I could publish content to which an audience might respond.

There was more. The possibility of connecting with people who my interests as well as the immediacy of doing so made me certain I’d have to use social media tools in my teaching. Students would not have to be sold on the immediacy; they after all, text and instant message, something on which I could capitalize.

So with a splash I can still hear when I’m quiet, I did it. I jumped in social media a couple of years ago by making a personal blog as well as getting on Facebook.

But there’s more. This spring I created a digital profile for Red River Valley Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota that I co-direct. What I learned making my own digital profile made me want to take the plunge for RRVWP. And when I did, it was effortless.

Surprisingly the work that I did (and still do to maintain and update our online presence) doesn’t readily bubble up to my memory’s surface; nor has it evaporated or gone under a bridge to disappear. It’s there…in me, part of my capacity, a set of actions and thinking I can deploy almost involuntarily, like signing a check or multiplying nine times seven. so how can I make this capacity available to others so they too can learn to use social media?

It’s what I call the Reverse Vygotsky (no twist), and it illustrates how I learned enough about social media to be able to share some level of my burgeoning expertise with others. Though I’m using Reverse Vygotsky here to explain my experiences with social media, I think it apples to all good teaching and learning across subject matter and grade levels.

Reverse Vygotsky

Using the work of Russian theorist Lev Vygostky, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Tanya N. Baker and Julie Dube Hackett describe speech and its relationship to learning in their book Strategic Reading Guiding Students to Lifelong Literacy, 6-12 (22-23). The following graphic represents an important element of what they contend:

Social speech————-> Private speech—————> Inner speech

Learning is he process by which speech moves from left to right, starting outside the learner as social speech “the process of talking through a task” (22). Typically this social speech is the instructional scaffolding that a teacher and/or capable peers lends t learner, so to speak, so that he or she can perform a task that is in her or her zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development is where a learner needs help with a task; this is where learning occurs. Social speech is help, guidance and, for me, the blogs I read supported me in my zone of proximal development as I tried to figure out how to make my own blog. I often took advantage of the feature on Blogger that allows you to click “Next Blog” (like you’re changing TV channels) to see a randomly generated next blog. For the most part, I was working alone and these blogs were social speech, though I didn’t always recognize or understand what I was looking at. I found the mousing over and then clicking on an icon lead me websites and widgets that were fascinating.

It became essential to be aware of my own though processes as I traveled the Internet, because I was constructing schema for social media. Think of schema as a mental cupboard for storing new learning. With schema, you’ve got a place that makes sense for new learning… goes on the second shelf next to this or that. Without schema, you’ve got stuff stacked everywhere without a lick of organization. As I read and studied blogs, I was making a shelf for widgets, another for creating blog content, another for pictures.

When I finally got a sense of the online world I had entered, I made my own blog, incorporating some elements I’d seen at other blogs. Though I did this easily, I still had to talk myself through it. In other words, I was using “private speech” to embed video, link text, etc. Private speech is social speech “internalized” (22), in effect what a learner says to herself to complete a task. (Still, whenever I write the word “receive.” I chant “I before e except after c to spell the word properly.) Finally, after practice and errors, and lots of time posting to and maintaining my own blog, doing all this because rather easy, effortless, something that one day just was. The “private speech” of creating online content had become “inner speech.” Inner speech is “the student’s silent, abbreviated dialogue that she carries on with self that is the essence of conscious mental activity” (23). Inner speech is the habituated talk that is so much a part of us that we probably don’t even notice it. It is what has been learned. My knowledge of creating a blog made creating other online content a breeze; I hopped on Twitter, a Ning or two and Flickr. I easily pulled content from my work at these sites onto my blog, so I could showcase it there. I added Slideshare and Scribd and Friendfeed. ( I would admit, I got a little crazy)

What I’ve just explained is nothing new to good teachers, even if they’ve not read about Vygotskian Learning Theory. And our intuitive or formal knowledge of the profession of speech from social to private to inner is why I would encourage a teacher or teachers to plunge into social media. Being able to make your own digital profile means you’ll be able to scaffold others as they create theirs. What’s Vygostky got to do with this? Take another look at the continuum below:

Social speech—–Private speech——-Inner speech

And now ask yourself this: from what is social speech made and does that have to do with teaching? Remember that the speech of learning moves from left to right in the above graphic. Shouldn’t then the speech of teaching move from right to left? In reverse? The social speech of thoughtful, effective speech should find its origins in inner speech. The speech of teaching, in particular, in readying oneself to teach should find its origins in inner speech. That speech moves on to private speech and then finally to social speech, what becomes the instructional scaffolding that helps others learn. A teacher must get as close as possible to her inner speech carry it into private speech and then to social speech where it becomes a public tool to help others learn.

Inner speech—-Private speech—-Social speech

Speech here enjoys a broad definition as not merely the way we talk to one another or ourselves but rather as activities, representations, strategies. So, if I stop right now and consider how I know what a complete sentence is, I don’t get a definition in my head. (I consider my knowledge of a complete sentence in part of my inner speech) I get a fuzzy sort of graphic and a sense of sound accompanied by a rhythm that I can almost scan. When I teach students how to recognize and write a complete sentence, I try to take access that fuzzy sort of graphic and sound pattern and turn it into an activity that supports their learning.

This document is, to some degree, my social speech about creating a digital profile. But it’s mostly my social speech about teachers as learners, a pep talk. Don’t be overwhelmed or apprehensive about learning social media, because you, as a teacher, are a skilled learner, and you’ll be able to learn this well enough that you will be able to help others.

Take the plunge!

Works Cited

Wilhelm, Jeffrey D., Julie Dube Hackett and Tanya N. Baker. Strategic Reading Guiding
Students to Lifelong Literacy, 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers,
Inc., 2001. Print.

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