The Power of Twitter in the Classroom…

I’ve been using Twitter for a couple years now — reluctantly at first, but with a vengeance over the past year.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it with the students I work with for some time now, but finally decided to just dive in. I was originally concerned with the overall objective — what was I trying to accomplish? Would using it be sound, education-wise, or would it simply be a new toy?

What I’ve found is that it certainly isn’t just a toy, and I’m loving what my students have been giving me so far.

Originally, my intention was to have the students Tweet as an exit slip (a quick piece which demonstrates the understanding of the day’s lesson). I thought this would be a great start and that it would be a quick way for me to see if they got it, so to speak. After some expected hiccups, like the fact that our school still blocks the students’ use of Twitter (cough, cough) and the fact that Twitter immediately suspended the accounts some students were creating (not sure why that was the case), we’ve found some success — and not just with the exit slips.

I’ve found that it’s helping me as a teacher in a couple of ways.

First and foremost, it’s enabled me to communicate with students and to clear up some questions. Here’s a simple example:

madi

That’s something that would have really bugged me — and it was a great question on her part. (By the way, it took me that long to respond to her because I was asleep when she originally Tweeted me!!!)

Another way that it’s helped is to let me see a little clearer in to the students’ minds. As much as teachers like to think we foster discussion amongst all students in the classroom, we’re kidding ourselves if we truly believe this to be the case. Twitter allows all students to join the discussion, especially those who are quiet or shy or just afraid to share. It’s truly rewarding to see students responding through Twitter to these students!

As for the students, I think they’re seeing that the conversation can leave the classroom (that’s actually another benefit for me as well!) The students’ first reading assignment was Chapters 1-6 and there were four hashtags that we used to organize our Tweets — #TKAMcharacter (which character do you like the most so far & why?) #TKAMquote1 (which of Lee’s sentences stuck with you the most) #TKAMpredict (it’s early on, where do you see Lee’s story going from here?) and #TKAMexit1 (what stuck with you the most from the first reading assignment). Here’s just a sampling of where they took some of these ideas:

twitter2

It’s also enabled me to push the students to dig a little deeper in their responses — and don’t forget, they’re only getting 140 characters to respond — actually less, because their knucklehead of a teacher took some away with the hashtags! Sometimes, what they give us is on the verge of something really good, but it’s just not quite there:

character2

But this is where it really gets magical in my mind. A colleague of mine, Mary Logan, who also teaches Mockingbird, saw what we were doing and then took the time to respond to the students’ Tweets. I mean, she went off (in such a good way!)

character2 character3

I mean, are you kidding me??? That’s just flat out awesome — it’s a teacher’s dream to be able to validate a student’s work, let alone to have another person do it. Ultimately, I hope that someone far away sees what’s going on and takes part in the conversation — that would just be incredible.

The students are already seeing that the conversation isn’t static, that we’ve got the possibility of  beginning a world wide book club — and yes, I’m enough of a dork to think that that is darn cool.

Incidentally, I think it’s very important that we keep in mind the responsibility we have as teachers to promote cyber safety and how to use social media appropriately. They’re kids, they’re going to be tempted to abuse what’s available to them — and all kids have done this through the ages. But if we model the appropriate behaviors and stress the importance of using it appropriately, isn’t that a tremendous byproduct of the technology?

I don’t want to make it out like everything has been incredible — things started a little slow, depth-wise, but their responses have improved drastically and I’m seeing them call each other out for dogging it on certain tweets (yes, that was for you, Mary!) I also had a situation in which two friends were kidding around, but it appeared as though a fight was going to happen. I think it’s a great learning experience for the students to see how things can easily be misinterpreted — that tone can be a tough thing to have a strong grip on while on Twitter or online in general.

In the future, we are going to Tweet up with students from another local school district as we are both studying Elie Wiesel’s Night. Essentially, in “old” terms, we will get the opportunity to have a set of pen pals to work with as we study this piece and I’m really looking forward to seeing not only what we can do while working with kids from another school, but also in seeing how they are using Twitter.

I’ve been extremely encouraged so far — are you using Twitter in your classroom? If so, what has and hasn’t worked for you?

(And you don’t have to be a teacher to join our conversations! Please feel free to join in!)

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