Is your school one of the many that is pushing the use of technology?
Do you know how to use it effectively for student learning?
While the use of technology can be engaging and entertaining, it’s also important for teachers to ensure that it supports student learning and achievement. And with the onset of Coronavirus, it’s become more important than ever!
One way I’ve recently incorporated digital learning is with Twitter. By using social media productively, I’ve made Twitter an instructional tool and engaged my high school students in Twitter chats about their reading. These chats are modeled on my own participation in #aplitchat and #2ndaryela chats, which I use for professional development.
There are multiple reasons why this benefits my students:
One of the most formidable challenges of standardized assessments such as the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature exam is the need for students to communicate their ideas quickly. On the AP English Literature test, students are required to write three essays in two hours, averaging 40 minutes for each two – three page essay.
At first, two hours may seem like adequate time, but two of the essays require students to read and analyze text before they write their essays which must communicate the complex ideas in the readings. By requiring students to respond to fast-paced reading and questioning during a Twitter chat, they practice reading, thinking, and writing quickly.
Most Twitter chats post questions every five to ten minutes. No doubt, whether it’s an exam for an AP course, the SAT, or other standardized assessment, students will likely face a timed-writing situation and Twitter chats provide helpful practice.
Social Learning and Collaboration
Learning requires interaction and sharing of ideas with others. I have two sections of AP English Literature and do weekly roundtable discussions of our novels. Students take ownership of their discussion and lead these roundtables. Since I listen to the discussion in both classes, I hear the valuable, yet sometimes differing, ideas that my students express.
By hosting a Twitter chat in the evening, I can get students
from both classes to share their thoughts with each other and add more voices to the discussion. This semester, my students discussed two poems, “We Are Many” by Pablo Neruda and “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur as practice Twitter chats.
Besides hosting chats between classes, I’ve also teamed up with a teacher Shari Marks from World Journalism Preparatory School in New York to host chats between both of our classes. She and I met during teacher Twitter chats and decided to try it with our students. Last year, our classes chatted about their reading of the The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This year, we had students discuss the poem, “Mansplaining.” Although our classes are different – I teach AP English Literature and she teachers AP English Language- our students benefit from the shared conversation and critical thinking that occurs during the chats.
Students need exposure to different writing purposes and audiences beyond the traditional classroom. Digital communication provides exposure to new audiences and opportunities to build relationships. It also creates a space for the “publication” of student writing, an important step in the writing process that may get neglected in the standard classroom.
During our most recent Twitter chat, the audience included the author of the poem that was being discussed. At the end of our discussion, I tagged author Jennifer Militello and asked her to weigh-in on the contradictory interpretations that students had for the end of her poem. She responded to their discussion (see one of her responses below) and her tweets made a lasting impression on them. By communicating with the author of the poem, student ideas were validated and her response helped build their confidence in themselves. It also made the chat more personal; we likely would not have been able to gain her insights without the benefit of technology and social media.
While the benefits of Twitter chats are clear, it can take practice to figure out the logistics of a chat. I’ve got some steps to help you navigate your own chats.
How to Host a Twitter Chat
1. Choose the text that you want your students to discuss. You can decide if you want to let them read it before the chat or just make it available at the beginning of the chat, depending on how much time you want them to have with the text. I try to choose a text that’s available on the internet and always provide a link to the text.
2. Create a unique hashtag for the chat so it will be easy to find and follow the discussion thread. You may want to check if the hashtag has been used in the past before you share it with your students. It’s best to keep the hashtag concise.
3. Write the questions for the chat. (You may want to involve students in creating the questions ahead of time.) Keep the questions open-ended but also short enough to be answered with tweets.
4. Determine the amount of time for your chat. I’ve found that a half-hour goes too quickly, so my chats are scheduled for 45 minutes to an hour. This allows me to post questions every seven – ten minutes (set a consistent time interval). It also gives students time to read and write their Tweets.
5. Provide directions to the students ahead of time. I modeled my directions off of the directions from the teacher chats I’m involved with.
6. Instruct students to use their first name (and last initial) only to protect their privacy. Start with a welcoming tweet and short introduction. Normally, I have students share their grade level and class and something related to school (but not too personal). To make the chat easier for them to follow, I also recommend that they follow my Twitter account @ocbeachteach.
Those are the basic steps but here are more tips to make your chatting go smoothly:
- Keep the group to a manageable size.
- Consider a “slow” chat that extends over several hours (helpful for students who have evening obligations).
- Practice within the context of your class period during the school day.
- Offer “enrichment” points for students who choose to participate in the evening.
- Encourage students to like one another’s tweets and retweet when responding to each other.
- Model responses for students and ask individual students questions to involve them.
- Ask students to offer new ideas instead of simply repeating what others have said already.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan for when your technology fails or the internet won’t connect. Sometimes I just use these Twitter task cards and activities where students “tweet” with pencil and paper. I’m sure there are other social media platforms or apps that could be used if Twitter isn’t the right tool for you. The point is to get students using technology in a productive manner.
Do you want more ideas for using digital instruction? Check out these recent blog posts from other educators:
Do you do Twitter chats or similar activities? What tips for teaching online would you give? Please share in the comments below.