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Breaking Down Classroom Walls Using Twitter

by Josefino Rivera, Jr, Asociación Escuelas Lincoln,  Buenos Aires, Argentina Breaking Down Classroom Walls Using Twitter

Of late, Twitter has received a bad rep. #hashtag #twitter #sucks. Arguments against Twitter range from the limitations of the 140 characters and the confusing abbreviations and symbols to allow for that brevity 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 space in an educational setting.

Yes, 140 characters provide obvious difficulties in articulating complexity in 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 its 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.

For example:


Then, the next day, we go back Tweetdeck, which conveniently organizes our class’s hashtags and use it as a means to access prior knowledge and review.

For example:


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, and gain the voices of a statistically 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 to actively engage in a discussion even when a limited few are supposed to lead it.

In seminars, the outside circle used to only evaluate an inner peer.  Then they gave feedback halfway through the discussion.  But they never got to engage in the discussion.  Twitter allows students the forum 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.

For example:


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 7 countries and 18 states.

The possibilities are endless.

But my students are still held accountable for writing 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.

Josefino Rivera, Jr. English Teacher, TED-Ed Advisor, TEDx Organizer Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln Buenos Aires, Argentina

For more information, come to my workshop on “Breaking Down Classroom Walls Using Twitter and TED” at the AASSA Conference in Curacao in March 2015.

Follow me on Twitter @josefinor


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