By Teachers, For Teachers
Twitter can easily be dismissed as a waste of time in the elementary school classroom. Students will get distracted. They’ll see tweets they shouldn’t. How does one manage a room full of Tweeple anyway? Is it even appropriate for lower grades?
If you want Twitter in your class, as yet another use of technology in the classroom, here’s ammunition for what often turns into a pitched, take-sides verbal brawl as well-intended teachers try to reach a compromise that works for all stakeholders on using Twitter.
Twitter gives you only 140 characters to get the entire message across. Wordiness doesn’t work.
At first blush, that seems impossible. It’s not. It challenges you to know the right word for every situation. People with a big vocabulary are at an advantage because they don’t use collections of little words to say what they mean; they jump right to it. All those hints your English teacher gave you -- picture nouns and action verbs, get rid of adverbs and adjectives -- take on new importance with the Twitter aficionado.
A blank white page that holds hundreds of words, demanding you fill in each line margin to margin is intimidating. 140 characters isn’t. Anyone can write 140 characters about a topic. Students write 140 characters and more, learn to whittle back, leave out emotional words, adjectives and adverbs, pick better nouns and verbs because they need the room. Instead of worrying what they’ll say on all those empty lines, they think about conciseness.
Social networks are all about netiquette. People thank others for their assistance, ask politely for help, encourage contributions from readers and learn to use technology in the classroom. Use this framework to teach students how to engage in the virtual community. It’s all about manners.
With only 140 characters, you can’t get off topic or cover tangential ideas. You have to save those for a different tweet. Tweeple like that trait. They like to hear your main topic and your thoughts, not your meanderings. When you force yourself to write this way, you find it really doesn’t take a paragraph to make a point. Use the right words; people get it. Consider that the average reader gives a story seven seconds before moving on. OK, yes, that’s more than 140 characters, but not much.
Start a tweet stream where students share research websites on a topic. Maybe the class is studying Ancient Greece. Have each student share their favorite website (using a #hashtag -- like #ancientgreece) and create a resource others can use. Encourage them to RT posts they found particularly relevant or helpful.
Writers call this the title. Bloggers and journalists call it the headline. Whatever the label, it must be pithy enough to pull the audience in. That’s a tweet.
Yes. This is a world where people read what you say and comment. That’s a good thing. It’s feedback (important in Common Core), builds an online community and is a great use of technology in the classroom. Students learn to construct arguments expecting others to respond, question, comment. Not only does this develop persuasive writing, students learn to take comments with a grain of salt and two grains of aspirin.
Create #hashmarks that help students organize tweets. #help if they have a question. #homework for homework help. Establish class #hashmarks for subjects you as teacher want students to address.
Why? Because Tweeple aren’t afraid to speak their minds. They only have 140 characters -- so they spit it right out. Because the Twitter stream is public (in a classroom, the stream can be private, but still visible to all members of the class), students understand what they say is out there forever. That’s daunting. Take the opportunity to teach students about their public profile. Represent themselves well with good grammar, good spelling, well-chosen tolerant ideas. Don’t be emotional or spiteful because it can’t be taken back. Rather than hiding students from the world, use Twitter to teach students how to live in it.
Students are less worried about typing 140 characters than raising their hand in class, all eyes on them, and having to spit out the right answer. With Twitter, students can type an answer, delete it, edit it, add to and detract from, all before they push send. Plus, it’s more anonymous than class, with no body language or facial expressions. It’s just words -- and not many of those. Students have their say, see how others respond, have a chance to clarify. What could be safer?
Twitter is exciting, new, hip. Students want to use it. It’s not the boring worksheet.
Consider this: You’re doing the lecture part of your teaching (we all have some of that), or you’re walking the classroom helping where needed. Twitter is your backchannel. Students can tweet questions that show up on the Smartscreen. It’s easy to see where everyone is getting stuck, which question is stumping them, and answer it in real time. The class barely slows down. Not only can you see where problems arise, students can provide instant feedback on material without disrupting the class.
Use Twitter as your classroom notepad. Have students enter their thoughts, and note reactions while you talk. By the time class is done, the entire class has an overview of the conversation with extensions and connections that help everyone get more out of the time spent together.
Inspiration doesn’t always strike in that 50-minute class period. Sometimes it’s after class, after school, after dinner, even 11 at night. Twitter doesn’t care. Whatever schedule is best for students to discover the answer, Twitter is there. If you tweet a question students can join the conversation when it works best for them. I love that. That’s a new set of rules for classroom participation, and these are student-centered, uninhibited by a subjective time period. Twitter doesn’t even care if a student missed the class. S/he can catch up via tweets and then join in.
How do you use Twitter in your classroom? I bet there are some more great ideas out there.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.