Teach Like You Tweet!

We can never underestimate the power of belonging and relationships. As middle level educators, we know the correlation between establishing relationships and student achievement, but have we considered the need to create a sense of belonging in our schools with regard to personal and professional growth and the dynamics of student interactions? Seeking the answer to this question took us on a rewarding journey to teach like we tweet.

Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) make our classrooms richer by giving us a growth mindset. Through PLNs, we learn new ways to think through situations collectively and to solve problems These networks can help us avoid burnout and provide us with a fresh perspective.

PLNs also allow students to look at the world through a global lens, design, collaborate, critically review, learn from entrepreneurs and authors, and get immediate feedback from each other, the school community, and the larger world.

Building relationships, developing a sense of belonging, and facilitating connections is what it is all about in middle school and beyond.

Setting the Stage

So where did we begin this adventure? After setting the stage with ground rules for students and our peers, we began building our community of teachers and learners with simple free backchannels like TodaysMeet (https://todaysmeet.com). Backchannels allow conversations to go on behind the scenes.

Participants can be a part of the conversation without interrupting the delivery and flow of the lesson. They can ask questions, give examples, take polls, gather feedback, share links, and more. Reluctant students have an avenue to voice ideas and ask questions. Virtual rooms can be opened for a day, a week, a month, or longer, and transcripts can be printed for student portfolio use or other needs.

Introducing Twitter

Twitter supports the Common Core in many ways, including developing a “deliberate, fewer, clearer, and higher” articulated skill set. Media literacy standards are also woven throughout the Common Core and align nicely with the use of Twitter. How so?

  • Media messages are produced for particular purposes and as such are constructs. It is our role to teach students to question specifically and purposefully, and 140 characters is pretty specific.
  • Media messages expand the concepts of literacy and encompass both analysis and expression. Students need an ever-evolving continuum of skills, knowledge, attitudes, and actions to become the reflective and engaged participants that are essential for a democratic society.
  • Using Twitter can help students look beyond late-breaking or “gotcha” news. While media is a part of our culture, we must help students see its social and political implications, how to make informed choices, and how to avoid doing harm.

Armed with a list of digital etiquette do’s and don’ts and a “paper tweet” design that helped students conform to the 140-character limits of Twitter, we began modeling how to teach fact or opinion, summarizing novels, editing and revising peer paper tweets, writing tweets from a differing global lens, and searching hashtags for collaborative activities. Learning to be clear, concise, and deliberate through a paper tweet and learning what makes a “favorite” or “retweet” proved to be engaging, meaningful work for all of us.

Full-Force Twitter

Full-fledged use of Twitter came next, with modeling, monitoring, and more. We all used Twitter—teachers and students—to debate the best ways to solve math problems, teach grammar rules, make predictions, hypothesize, compare and contrast. The skill of communicating in 140 characters or less allowed us to explore, ponder, and think more deeply than ever before.

We also used Twitter to formatively assess a newly learned skill, as students’ short tweets allowed us to see if participants were on track. Twitter also helped us with goal setting, creating connections, crafting ongoing stories and poems, and expressing learning through Common Core “I Can” statements.

Over time the opportunities for using Twitter increased and became more complex: tracking a hashtag, solving a logic problem, tweeting through the voice of a novel’s character, promoting service-learning projects, and posting pics of collaborative work or end products. Twitter started conversations, helped participants find answers to their questions, and created change in our classrooms and schools.

As our students became Twitter power users, we introduced TweetDeck, (https://tweetdeck.twitter.com) as a platform for following multiple Twitter feeds, hashtags, and users. With TweetDeck, students can zero in on specific conversations and ideas. TweetDeck facilitates participation in TweetChats. (http://tweetchat.com)—exchanges built around a specific topic or hashtag such as #edchat or #AMLEwebchat.

Finally we introduced paper.li, a free app that allows users to collect tweets and curate them into a newspaper-style format. Think about the possibilities of using Twitter plus paper.li to produce team, grade level, or school news through a format of 140 characters or less!

Expanding the Classroom Walls

The increased use of Twitter and the development of PLNs helped us realize the answer is, and always has been, “in the room.” The only difference is that the room is suddenly larger. Twitter helped us build a sense of belonging, create an increased positive culture, and improve student performance and engagement. Facilitating connections helped us grow as teachers and leaders. Learning outcomes improved and social media helped us get there.

Brent Anderson is director of secondary services for Onslow County Schools in Jacksonville, North Carolina. brent.anderson@onslow.k12.nc.us

Susanne Long is director of curriculum, research, and development services for Onslow County Schools in Jacksonville, North Carolina. 

Published in AMLE Magazine, March 2015.