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Tweeting in the Classroom

By Josefino Rivera, Jr.
Tweeting in the Classroom

Of late, Twitter has received a bad rep. #hashtag #twitter #sucks. Arguments against Twitter range from the 140-character limit and the confusing abbreviations and symbols that brevity necessitates to the lack of interaction and even the death of languages as we know them.
While there may be some validity in these arguments, ultimately Twitter does have a place in an educational setting.
Yes, a 140-character limit presents obvious difficulties when seeking to articulate complex ideas. Yes, the Twitter language can be so convoluted with abbreviations and symbols that making sense of them may be the very reason why so many give up. And yes, the first few times on Twitter may feel like a middle school dance all over again if you don’t get the number of Followers you were hoping for right away. But no, it definitely does not kill languages. Languages should evolve based on the needs of their users.
But let’s get past the “yes” and the one “no” section for a moment. Just as any technological tool, it can have a place in the classroom. In my English 10 and IB Lang/Lit course, I end most days with my students on Twitter. They have an “Exit Tweet” that asks them to summarize their learning or showcase their understanding through creative comparisons like synectics, a metaphorical connection to a class concept.
After reading the first chapter of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in class using the Read-Aloud strategy, students shared their first impressions on Twitter as an exit Tweet. The next day, we reviewed the Twitter feed to feel get the full class picture before delving into more work on reading strategies, vocabulary, and literary devices. Furthermore, Twitter blurs the lines between my two sections of Lang/Lit and my three sections of English 10. When we review, we look across all classes, gain a larger number of ideas, and begin breaking down classroom walls.
Another great use of Twitter in the class is during Socratic seminars or speeches. Twitter offers all students the chance to actively engage in a discussion, even when a limited few are supposed to lead it.
Previously in seminars, members of the outside circle would only evaluate an inner peer, then giving feedback halfway through the discussion. But they never got to engage in the discussion itself. Twitter gives students a forum in which to do so.
Similarly in my IB Lang/Lit class, while delivering their Further Oral Activities (FOAs), the audience Tweeted any of the following: key words or phrases from the presentation, evaluations of the presenters using the language of the rubric, responses to the arguments they made, and photos or videos.
If I have a particularly curious class, of course the inquiry is fantastic, but the questions sometimes derail the focus of the lesson. I use Twitter to collect questions and save them for the time I have at the end.
Perhaps one of the most successful assignments was when my students joined in a weekly #TEDEdChat, a one hour long chat devoted to discussing TED Talks related to education. They discussed a TED Talk called “The Danger of Silence” by @clintsmith. Here students interacted with participants from seven countries and 18 states.
The possibilities are endless.
But my students are still made to write complex ideas in 800-1000 words, not just 140 characters. Because I’ve taught them the language of Twitter (i.e. # is virtual filing cabinet, @ is username, RT is ReTweet, etc.), they can decipher the confusion of the Twitter world. And, while they still complain about the lack of interaction with other users outside of the classroom, they are learning that Followers follow for a reason. That is, good Tweets.
Josephino Rivera teaches at the Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln, Buenos Aires. He tweets at @josefinor.

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