Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

#BowTieBoys: Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

by Mary Howard

Have you ever had an experience that was so powerful it lingered long after it was over, intermittently tapping you on the shoulder to remind you it was still there? Well that happened to me November 2015, long before we brought my memory to life on #G2Great. March 16, 2017 is now a contributor to the growing memory in my heart as high school teacher Jason Augustowski and nine remarkable ninth and tenth grade students known as #BowTieBoys were our guest hosts. Ryan Hur, Ryan Beaver, Jack Selman, Dawson Unger, Spencer Hill, Sam Fremin, Sean Pettit, Joe O’Such, and Kellen Pluntke extended their reach across the Twittersphere.

I first learned of #BowTieBoys when I happily found myself in a session at NCTE 2015 led by Lester Laminack and Jason Augustowski. Hearing high school students speak so eloquently with such profound understanding of teaching made it clear I had witnessed something spectacular. I experienced that impact once again at NCTE 2016 and was so inspired that Sam Fremin became our first #BowTieBoy guest host June 9, 2016. I have since become a self-appointed #BowTieBoys cheerleader, a role I take very seriously.

Since Lester and Jason introduced the Bow Tie Boys to the world, it seems only fitting that they also introduce them to #G2Great:

When I asked the Bow Tie Boys to host #G2Great, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation. Wholeheartedly embracing the opportunity, students wrote their own questions based on personal educational interests and on chat night Jenn, Amy and I took a backseat to soak in #BowTieBoys wonder in a #G2Great version of side-by-side learning. Although this inspiring group has grown dramatically since 2015, it brought back the intense memory of our first meeting – and I was inspired anew!

From the moment #BowTieBoys took the #G2Great helm, professional enthusiasm exploded into colorful fireworks of collective enthusiasm that persists days later. Even though this was the first experience with a Twitter chat for many of them, they approached it will a spirit of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm was captured by a picture Jason took of nine students sharing their passion for educational excellence – and we were all charmed from the start!

As I look back on our amazing #BowTieBoys chat, I want to spotlight each powerful questions individually since these pondering offer essential messages that should remain at the forefront of our educational dialogue. (Do yourself a favor and follow  them on Twitter and on their blog listed with their question)


Nine Lessons Learned from Remarkable High School #BowTieBoys

Ryan Hur: TwitterBlog

As the #G2great clock struck 8:30 EST, #BowTieBoys words of welcome flooded the Twitter screen in what one of our chatters described as ‘the most welcoming chat ever.’ Ryan reminds us to ensure that all students feel heard and appreciated just as we felt heard and appreciated. We can only develop a positive bond within a respectful and supportive community of learners that invites students to ‘the most welcoming classrooms ever.’

Ryan Beaver Twitter; Blog

I doubt that anyone would argue the tremendous affect personal interest can have on the learning process. The Bow Tie Boys’ questions and blogs are fueled by their educational interests and this has resulted in incredible learning opportunities that are driven by hard work and effort. Ryan reminds us that when we celebrate interests, we can awaken curiosity that in turn leads to more learning. Student interests and personal passions then become ripple their way to increased learning.


Jack Selman Twitter; Blog

Research has long informed the critical role dialogue and collaboration play in the learning process. Our weekly #G2Great chat illustrates the power of talk week after week as educators clamor to join a social media form of collaborative discourse. Jack reminds us that the end product of learning is not assignments or contrived questions. Rather, the goal is to actively engaging students in the process of learning that is elevated through meaningful talk that revolved around the learning. Engaged collaboration rises from a respectful community of shared learning where talk moves from the teacher to students.


Dawson Unger Twitter; Blog

Dawson’s question focused on gifted and special education students, but his message was about so much more because it illustrates our responsibility to meet the needs of every student in our classroom. Dawson reminds us that we can only meet this ethical and professional responsibility when we truly know our students. As we gain deeper day to day knowledge that occurs only in the trenches of learning we cam then generate differentiated instructional experiences that take students from where they are to where they could be when our teaching is student-focused.


Spencer Hill Twitter; Blog 

Just as our students are wonderfully unique from an instructional perspective, they are also wonderfully unique in the level of engagement they each bring to learning. As we address the instructional needs of students, we also address their emotional needs. Spencer reminds us that choice and passion are extraordinary contributors to this process of maximizing student engagement in learning. There is a big difference between assigning and engaging and the impact of this distinction can be quite dramatic – for better or for worse.


Sam Fremin Twitter; Blog

Our wonderful #G2Great family shows up on Twitter week after week, and Sam is a long-time member of that family (yes a high school student has been part of our #G2Great conversations for some time). Sam is committed to social media and the powerful role it can play on the learning lives of teachers and students alike. Yet, in spite of an escalation of technological advances and broad learning opportunities, many teachers and students still avoid it. Sam’s question is worth posing in every school, “Why limit student interaction?.” But this requires teachers to embrace it.

Sean Pettit TwitterBlog

Sean raises an issue many educators have also posed that questions the value of five-paragraph essays. Sean reminds us that when we shift our focus away from rigid rule-based writing to the creative thinking that is a critical aspect of writing, we can then increase the quality of that writing. We can achieve this important shift by designing a learning environment that encourages students to find inspiration around them. Student interest can spark the creative thinking that could teach students as much about the writing process because it is inspired by that thinking.


Joe O’Such Twitter; Blog 

Joe’s thoughtful merging of “humanity” with teaching to the test is an important one in a day and age where test scores hover over educators like a dark cloud. Joe reminds us that student success rather than test scores is the ultimate goal. His suggestion to offer individual learning opportunities that put learning back in the hands of students allows us to keep them at the center of our practices. I can’t imagine a better way to achieve Joe’s belief in teaching with “humanity” than to keep professional humanity inseparably intertwined with our efforts.

 Kellen Pluntke Twitter; Blog

Homework has regained attention in educational discussions so Kellen’s question is a timely one. With so much time-wasting homework assigned in schools across the country, Kellen wisely reminds us to allow student voices to enter the conversation. We can elevate homework experiences when it supports and extends instruction while highlighting student passions. When purpose and passion join forces, the homework discussion changes in both direction and potential for impact. This message is sorely needed in many classrooms.


This bonus question is inspired by high school teacher Jason Augustowski (blog) who participated in the entire #G2Great chat alongside students. As the resident #BowTieBoy cheerleader, I’d like to pose a question in their honor.

Jason is a model for what is possible when we trust students to lead the way. In Jason’s words, that begins by creating classroom where we model our unwavering commitment to students. Jason was in the sidelines all the way, yet always allowing students to remain in the #G2Great drivers seat by posing and responding to their own questions. He set the stage for this amazing chat experience while keeping students in the spotlight so they would shine in a powerful side-by-side supportive journey to a powerful new experience.

As I reflected on conversations that rose from these questions, I realized that certain ideas were woven throughout the tweets like an intricate instructional thread of importance. These repeated concepts inspired me to create a visual reminder of the impact nine students and a teacher had on our thinking.

I’d like to end on a personal note. For several years, I’ve had a nagging concern that we’re missing the obvious in a constant quest to become the educators our students deserve. Thanks to the #BowTieBoys inspiration, I am now more convinced than ever that this missing ingredient is students. I’m not sure that we can ever become the teachers we hope to be until we open more teacher-student conversations.

Our #G2Great family values professional growth but #BowTieBoys illustrate a new layer of our life-long quest for understanding. If we are willing to hold up a looking glass of our teaching from students’ perspective, we can see our work through their eyes. And those are very wise eyes indeed.

So in honor of their continuing impact, please do me a favor. When you go back into your classrooms tomorrow, look into the eyes of your students and ask them about your teaching from their side….

because you’ll never know the wonderful places their responses can take you until you ask.

One thought on “#BowTieBoys: Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes”

  1. Amazing recap of the chat that was #9 Thursday night thanks to the #Bowie Boys! They are articulate, passionate and completely sincere about their goal to improve education.

    Why isn’t student VOICE and CHOICE a topic of teacher / student dialogue every day?

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