Insta-Teaching in High School: Embracing the Digital Age

Image by Thomas Ulrich

Students today live in a totally different world then students did 10 years ago. Anything they want to know is at their fingertips. Recently, I started teaching my students about the American Revolution. One of them raised his hand (in Israel, this is considered to be quite an achievement on my part!) and asked me if I could just send them a link to the material for the test. 

Now, this may seem rude to you, but I knew that he didn’t mean to be disrespectful. He genuinely thinks that anything I teach him, he can just as easily find on Wikipedia. 

It is easy to view this digital-age attitude as the problem but it’s not- the school system is.  As a teacher, one of the hardest aspects of my job is to get the students interested and engaged. I am constantly struggling to find thought-provoking topics that will intrigue their over-stimulated mind.

That’s why the students are not the only ones who view the Internet as a vital tool. I too, find the internet essential to my teaching strategy. I’m constantly in awe of the unending treasure troves of ideas and information I can find there. When I’m stuck on a topic, unsure how to proceed, I can always rely on a huge global network of teachers to get my creative juices flowing. 

One day while looking for a worksheet, I stumbled across an Irish ESL teacher for adults (@corkenglishteacher). I noticed that he was on every major social media platform – Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. That was when inspiration hit. The kids are on their phones all day; it’s a never-ending battle for their precious attention – so why not use this to my advantage? 

I immediately opened an additional Instagram page (@yaelesl) and told my 12th-grade class about it. Of course, they all laughed at me and told me I was the weirdest teacher they ever had. Slowly, I started to add content. I thoroughly embarrassed myself by posting videos of myself explaining advanced vocabulary. I downloaded an app and started making cute posts about phrases and synonyms. I even put up daily pop quizzes on the “story” feature.  

The kids were hooked. It started spreading throughout the school and pretty soon the rest of my classes were following my account. 

Students were commenting, liking and answering quizzes on weekends, in the middle of the night and even at parties. I had inadvertently found a way to make them learn English in their free time! Students who never participated in class suddenly felt that they “belonged”. They were now part of my online community of students. 

The students felt like I was speaking their language and even better- it gave them a chance to respond and engage in a way that they are used to. With immediate feedback as a key factor, the online quizzes quickly became the most popular content on my IG account.

Why is this new-found learning method so mind-blowing? As adults living in 2020 don’t we feel the same? We too have grown accustomed to the immediacy of the internet with access to nearly anything we want, right at our fingertips. Why is it only in our school system that students must wait 2 weeks for written feedback for their work? When this happens in other aspects of our lives (who doesn’t suffer here from Israeli bureaucracy?) we rant about the inefficiency of it all. 

Now, an Instagram account obviously cannot replace the traditional classroom and it definitely doesn’t answer many of the problems that teachers face daily, but it did remind me of something very important. Just like every being on the planet, we must adapt to survive. 

As Leo Megginson stated so eloquently while explaining Darwin’s Origin of Species “it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”  

The education system, like any large bureaucratic entity, is not handling change well. It is struggling to adapt to the ever-evolving digital world. Unfortunately, this means that each teacher must find their own way to bridge this widening generation gap. If we wait for a nearly archaic system to adapt for us, we may be able to teach our students for the bagrut, but we will never truly connect with them. 

Bottom line is – the cell-phone is not our enemy. Our inability to adapt is. 

Teachers, we need to adjust our methods and to start speaking their language.

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