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Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

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Recently I’ve been working with some colleagues who are doing great things with Twitter in their English classrooms. I’ve also run into some teachers who are interested in the potential of Twitter but haven’t taken the plunge. So I decided to compile a few examples of how Twitter could be integrated into the English classroom just to provide a place for further discussion and exploration. I would love to hear other ideas for authentic and valuable Twitter integration, so be sure to drop a comment!

Tweet as a character

The first example of this comes from my own classroom. When I noticed that a few of my students were completing my in-class literature assignments more quickly than their peers, I decided to engage them in an extension activity using Twitter hashtags. Pulling three engaging characters from our current reading, Of Mice and Men, I had them come up with a hashtag for each of them. They impressed me with their creativity! For the mentally-challenged but superhuman-strong character of Lennie, one student came up with #Ferdinandthebull (for a reminder of the connection, click here). Another student suggested #angryelf for the small, pugnacious character of Curley. Once we had hashtags matched to characters, I invited all of my students to participate (once their other activities were complete) by reacting to the story AS the character of their choice. If they wanted to react to something that just happened through the character of Lennie, they wrote their tweet and simply added the hashtag #Ferdinandthebull to aggregate it into one conversation stream. Periodically, I would check in with these hashtag conversations and share them with the whole class. We ended up laughing at the imagined responses, and discussing any insightful tweet that challenged our understanding of the characters.

Twitter to Communicate

My colleague @Mr. Gessel and Jim uses Twitter in multiple ways to communicate with his high school students. Some days he posts an activating question and invites responses via Twitter; other times he sends out a Dropbox link for an assignment he wants his students to complete. Overall, he finds that his students are on Twitter frequently, so he wants to leverage it as a way to go beyond the four walls and forty-three minutes of his classroom each day. Belosw are some sample posts from his feed so you get the idea. Mr. Gessel uses the hashtag #telljim to aggregate student responses to discussion questions. His classroom plant’s name is “Jim.” 🙂

Twitter and Shakespeare

A third way to use Twitter in and English classroom comes from two of my colleagues who are using Twitter to engage their 10th grade students with Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth. (Follow their class sample feed @HHS146). Like the activity above, these teachers ask students to compose a tweet from the perspective of one of the characters in Macbeth, but unlike my more spur-of-the-moment extension of classroom work, my colleagues have built Twitter to be a component throughout the whole play. Their unit’s main objective is to develop students’ understanding of characterization as well as develop their skill of analyzing different aspects of a conflict within and between characters. So after each scene, students post a tweet as one of the characters reacting to some plot element or reacting to another character. At the end of Act I, students aggregate these tweets into a Storify project and analyze their best tweet as well as a tweet from a peer. At the end of each of the subsequent acts of the play, the student requirements for tweets increases, and their tasks diversify.

One of the teachers creating this project has been recording his process as well as his reflections, and has agreed to share a few excerpts with me. (Update: the first of his posts about this project  can be found here.) When doing initial research on how other high school English classrooms were using Twitter he states:

It was a mixed bag, but most were simply using it as a method of back-channel communication or as my colleagues were already using it [to post links or send reminders].  I wanted something more, something with more depth.

As he continued to contemplate how to challenge his students to think on a higher level rather than just engage with a new “cool” technology, he reflects:

My father, a retired educator, is fond of saying, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”  As I did more and more research, and kept thinking back to Barnwell’s article.  He wanted to create a curriculum  that ‘instead of simply embracing Web 2.0 tools […] utilizes technology as part of a larger creation process.’ That was what I wanted: creation.  However, at 140 characters per tweet that would be like trying to build the pyramids with limestone blocks the size of sugar cubes.  Tweets were simply too brief to do the job.  I think the issue my colleagues around the web had with Twitter is they saw it as the end of the intellectual conversation, that the tweet was the final product of the learning.  I needed a way to make the tweets just one step in the process.

And when he finally settled on using Twitter in conjunction with Storify, he writes the steps of the actual assignment that would lead his students to their end goal: analysis.

This would be an opportunity to practice composing tweets, learn about the characters and get a handle on the plot.  Their task was to Storify a response to their best tweet and also the tweet of a peer [..] The way this activity is structured I almost do not care what the tweet looks like, I am more interested in the analysis.  This is still true if the tweet contains errors or erroneous information.  I would find that interesting should the student point this out, even on his/her own tweet, while conducting the analysis because that would show growth and self-awareness.

His thought process is a real gem, so I hope he publishes his more detailed process on his own blog soon. so the rest of you can benefit from the planning, troubleshooting, and pedagogical reflection–awesome stuff.

Overall, I’m consistently amazed and inspired by the way I see Twitter being used to engage with students, bring relevancy to content, expand the walls of the classroom, and challenge students to be self-reflective. I’m excited to expand my own Twitter use past my personal development and bring the power of the network to my students. How have YOU seen Twitter being used effectively in classrooms? What have these ideas inspired you to question or think about? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.

To follow the teachers mentioned in this blog see @RobSterner and @Mr. Gessel and Jim and @EmilyR