Tik Tok as a Tool for Literacy and Learning Reimagining 21st Century Literacy and Learning

By A’Dorian Murray Thomas,
Board Member, Newark Board of Education
Founder & CEO, SHE Wins Inc.

Children want to read—just not in the way you want. In the era of Tik Tok, tweets, and Instagram, those of us who care deeply about children’s education must expand our view of what learning looks like in the modern age. As schools and communities grapple with the issue of learning loss amid COVID-19, now more than ever, students need access to diverse and innovative tools that can make learning exciting and help bridge literacy gaps.

I had the privilege of supporting more than 30 girls who ser ved as youth leaders at the PAC Elementary School “Literacy Carnival” this summer. SHE Wins Inc, a girls leadership and mentorship organization, focuses on serving girls affected by violence and building a pipeline of college, career, and community-ready young women leaders. SHE Wins Scholars distributed free books, facilitated reading circles, and led art activities to increase enthusiasm for reading prior to the new school year.

Though SHE Wins Scholars and their fellow Gen Z’ers need traditional books to learn, they can learn just as much from beyond the page. As an educator, some of my most intellectually rigorous conversations with students stemmed not only from discussing books or articles, but also including tweets, YouTube videos, and Tik Tok videos. Rhetorical questions, historical facts, and probing insights on issues ranging from climate change to institutional racism can emerge from the text of a Tik Tok or the caption of an Instagram post.

While mindful of the limitations of social media and the digital world, this moment calls us to acknowledge the ways in which the digital landscape can help the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and creatives engage in reading comprehension, storytelling, and critical analysis both in and beyond the classroom. It is our job as educators, parents, caregivers, and concerned citizens to support students in finding balance online and leveraging social media for literacy and learning. Collective neglect of this opportunity may risk deepening the educational wounds we seek to heal.

The power of the pen is no longer limited to ink and paper. With the right support, students can cultivate valuable literacy and critical thinking skills with the scroll of their thumb. Let’s help our students write their own stories of intellectual exploration as they prepare for bright futures in the new age.

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