Twitter: Empowering Student Voices [Guest Post]

twitterThe timeless skill of effective communication is the anchor, which will enable students to successfully find and share their voice with the world through the power of words. As we celebrate Digital Learning Month in February, we must embrace the power of digital media and the impact it has upon our daily lives. Are you utilizing the incredible power of social-media in your classroom?

In a world of instant communication, our students have the opportunity to engage and share with a global audience on a daily basis. Teaching students how to be effective collaborators, interact globally, and build powerful networks, is both the social and academic benefit to Twitter in education. As society and technology changes, so does literacy. Can social media positively impact 21st century literacy-learning? Utilizing Twitter in the classroom is more than assigning students a Twitter username, it’s developing and modeling the essential communication skill- writing effectively. If we want our students to blog, connect, and communicate, we must model this skill daily and ‘walk the walk.’

Twitter is the most popular platform for microblogging, which combines blogging, text messaging, and social networking. Social Media defines how we engage with each other. It’s no wonder that people deny it’s power and educators struggle with districts where social media is blocked. Many argue that social media is nothing but a high tech distraction. Educators needs to model and demonstrate social media as a tool for effective collaboration, communication, and empowerment.

Inside the Classroom: Can Students Really Learn from a “Tweet?”

What could that look like? Some suggestions:

  1. Student, Class, Teacher, or School Hosted Twitter Chats -- Students or collaborative groups choose 3-5 questions, which will be the topic of the chat. The questions should be based on a current theme or issue of literary study. Students will be the facilitators throughout the event.
  2. Family Twitter Chat Night -- As an extension of the classroom Tweet-up, a topic is sent home in advance with a set time for the chat. Families are encouraged to chat as a family unit. A follow-up chat is held the next day in class, as a written reflection of the event.
  3. Fictional Twitter Characters -- Students create fictional twitter accounts of literary characters or historical figures as they work through a current problem or issue. This is a great activity when teaching characterization, as the characters must react to current events based on their character traits in the story, novel, or historical event.
  4. Fictional Twitter Character Debate -- Students produce a Tweet dialogue between two opposing characters about a key issue in the story, current event, or future event.
  5. Tweet-story -- Begin by tweeting out a story starter. Students continue the story in sequence through tweets. This activity can be constructed as a group or an individual activity.
  6. Twitter Version of ‘Pass It On’ -- Individual students or groups are each assigned one element of the plot sequence. They are allowed only the 140 characters to write their character description, setting, climax, etc. Students will tweet out their descriptions in order based on the plot diagram.
  7. Create a Poll -- Students will create their own poll to gauge opinion or gather information on current issues related to the theme or issue in a story or article.
  8. Curating Presentations -- Students participate in and curate conversations through tweets during a presentation by other students or a guest speaker. Students are prompted in advance as to key points based on the issue.
  9. Global Tweeting -- Test your genius! In an effort to build students’ curiosity, ask students to tweet their “big thinking” questions -… what if… how might…. I wonder…… For example: What if there were 14 months in a year? This activity will also help students begin to build their own PLN.
  10. Twitter Community Connection -- Establish a partnership with local government or a charitable organization in your community. Use Twitter to reach a broader audience, as students discuss the latest cultural or educational event in the area.
  11. Debating Social Issues -- Poll the class as to what current issue they would like to follow; this could also be based for the theme or conflict in a story. Students subscribe to relevant hash tags and accounts from both perspectives of an issue. Students engage in debate by supporting their arguments with evidence.
  12. Writing Book Reviews -- Twitter provides a great format for students when writing micro-reviews of books, poems, or current articles.
  13. Engage in Word Games -- There are numerous activities in which to engage students in vocabulary through Twitter. A simple ‘Do Now’ activity is to post a daily or weekly challenge asking students to unscramble anagrams, contribute synonyms or antonyms, or design and upload a word cloud, which examines multi-aspects of a word.
  14. Summarizing and Writing Concisely -- After assigning a current article, ask students to summarize the article within the 140 character limit. This writing event teaches summarizing and writing concisely.
  15. Twitter as an Exit Slip -- At the conclusion of class, ask students to write a 140-summary of their understanding of the day’s objective or pose any questions to be considered in the next class.

Can Teachers Really Learn from a “Tweet?”

Teachers must internalize how social media like Twitter can facilitate their learning. Digital opportunities to connect with new content and communities can accelerate learning for all students —but teachers must become effective digital learners first.

My Twitter journey has enabled me the opportunity to:

  • Follow other educator’s tweets, keep up with the latest trends, news, and happenings in education, as well as communicate with fellow educators
  • Build a PLN with educators throughout the world- including creating a G+ Community titled #teach2blog
  • Share links, posts from my own blog, and classroom projects
  • Tweet during educational conferences as an interactive back channel during official presentations
  • Utilize as a professional development tool
  • Actively engage in weekly educational chats with a growing network of educators

What Lessons Have I Learned from Twitter?

I now rely on Twitter for help in the same way that I rely on my colleagues in the hallways at Lincoln Junior High. I’ve realized the true power of social media and the impact it has for all learners. I'm accessing and sharing ideas connected to my professional interests through a growing PLN. Finally, I've taken ownership of my own learning. If we want our students to blog, connect, and communicate, we must model the skill of effective communication, which will enable our students to successfully find and share their voice with the world.

This post was written by Teach100 community member Paula Neidlinger. Paula's blog Literacy Shop Talk focuses on fostering a literacy-rich classroom culture, and discusses topics including literacy, collaboration, social media, and technology. You can follow Paula on twitter at @pneid