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Want Kids to Be Kind on Social Media? Let Them Chat

Allow students to make social media mistakes in a kind, supportive setting.

Art Spencer | September 20, 2017

Teacher Voices: This article is part of a series of from-the-classroom perspectives.

Someday, I’d like all of my students to grow up to be the kinds of people I would want to friend on Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever the social media du jour is at the time. Even if they don't seek me out, I'd like to think I'd be proud to include them in my social media circle.

With this goal in mind, I wonder every day what I can be doing now, today, to make it happen. I hope my colleagues feel the same way. One of my main avenues to creating thoughtful, careful contributors to the online world is something I see very few teachers doing. To help students, we need to turn on the chat!

Google Classroom, Edmodo, Schoology: They all have a chat feature. Every single learning management system (LMS) out there has a chat or post feature. Almost all my colleagues turn it off.

As for me, I use the social media aspects of Destiny, my library management software. At the beginning of each school day, I take about five minutes and review the recommendations and responses that every student posted the previous day.

I encourage other teachers to allow their students to interact online, but most say they don't want to deal with the problems that will surely come up or that they don't have time to monitor the chat. These teachers are missing a powerful teaching tool that can have a lifelong impact on their students' lives.

First, allowing students to interact online provides them with guided practice. When (not if) students make mistakes in posting online, it’s usually something small such as using all caps in a post. Instead of letting them be flamed for doing so online, a few words from me about netiquette quickly corrects this behavior. Also, once we talk, I encourage students to then make another post and format it correctly. Sure, it takes a minute or two out of my day, but I'm much happier thinking my students hear it from me rather than from some online troll.

Another advantage of chat: Students learn from peers and solidify their learning by helping each other. They become active participants in their own digital citizenship. Before putting students into an LMS, we work together as a class to develop a set of norms that students agree to follow online. Students get the chance to correct each other's behavior, and they do. They are very good at helping each other out and pointing out when students are not following the class-created guidelines.

Finally, being able to interact online helps give students meaningful and timely feedback. I teach students to remind each other to use appropriate words and follow proper netiquette. More importantly, I encourage them to help each other by using friendly, thoughtful language. Hearing "Next time please remember to not use all caps" from a peer is much more effective than starting a flame war over a minor issue. What's more, the students are faster to see these things and can respond to each other even when I’m not online myself!

So, as this year begins, I challenge you to help your students be the best digital citizens they can be by allowing them to interact online in a safe sandbox that you create for them. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Allow them to be the kind of social media users you'd be proud to call your friends.

For more tips and lessons on teaching students online communication skills, check out the Common Sense Digital Citizenship program.