Student Well-Being Opinion

Twitter Can Improve Text-Based Class Discussion

By Starr Sackstein — February 19, 2017 4 min read
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So the day of the text-based discussion has arrived and all of the students have had time to think about their ideas, write them down and pair-share in preparation for a vibrant and meaningful student-led discussion.

You’re excited. This is going to be great!

But once you drop the first question and get out of the way, all you get is crickets or the hands of your three most assertive speakers shoot up and the rest of the class quietly sink back into their seats, waiting for time to run out before you notice they haven’t spoken.

Class discussion can be challenging when you have a large class and only a few students who seem prepared to speak. Too often we allow the reticent folks in the room to silently sit and watch while their classmates control the discussion.

But there is a way to ensure that all students do get involved in a class conversation and take the pressure off having to actually speak out loud. Consider using a class hashtag and conduct a text-based Twitter chat in lieu of a traditional classroom discussion to ensure that all voices get heard.

Twitter was a staple in my classrooms in my old school and although the protocol took some time to implement, students seemed eager to participate. So I figured I’d give it a try in my new school.

First we tried using Twitter during a gallery walk to help share ideas. This time students were sharing what they learned from their literature circle discussions as a share out opportunity to prepare for an upcoming assignment where they will be writing a short story and turning it into a fiction podcast.

With 34 students in class who enjoy using their phones, I figured I’d try something different to make class meaningful the day before vacation. To my surprise, many students didn’t even know how to tweet.

With a short tutorial and some modeling, I was able to project the hashtag on the board and start tweeting for my students. They had done the work already in their groups and now it was time to share what they learned and learn from each other.

Each student was asked to tweet at least three original tweets that addressed author’s craft from the story they read. They were asked to anchor these tweets in the text. They were also asked to ask two questions of their text or of their classmates and to reply to three different students.

At first, students struggled to make the 140 character limit, but I taught them some tricks of taking pictures of their annotated text and reminded them to use the classhash tag when they tweeted. Aside from the fact that some of my most reticient students were participating, I also liked the fact that I can curate the conversation with storify or with Twitter moments and the students have a record of the conversation they can return to later.

So if you want to set up a twitter chat with your students, here is what you’ll need to do:

  • Prepare for a discussion as you always would, allowing students time to think about a text and write down some thoughts first.
  • Make sure all students have a Twitter account. If they have personal accounts, it may be appropriate for them to start a second school account just for class.
  • Ask students to follow you, so they see what you are posting. I recommend you are very selective about who you follow back.
  • Find a hashtag that isn’t being used already and likely won’t be. Ours was #LIC10E and in my 8th period class #SacksteinPD8. Make sure to post the hashtag on the board where students can see it. I usually email students ahead of time as well and provide them with the protocol in writing before I go over it in class.
  • Prepare for potential issues with technology ahead of time and make sure you have computers, laptops or ipads available for students who don’t have phones or data plans to participate.
  • Model the expectations first, by either posting a few tweets before class starts and then actually tweeting for students to model the expectation live. Make sure to speak aloud what you’re doing as you go so that both visual and auditory learners can benefit.
  • Remind students to put the hashtag in the search line so that feed comes up on their screen if they aren’t using another app like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.
  • At the end of class I posted a quick poll to get some feedback from students and found out that most students liked the experience, but feel they need more practice to get better at it.

Since I’m currently the only teacher they have that uses this format for learning, I certainly need to remember that tweeting like any other skill takes practice. I remember my trepidation about tweeting in the beginning and my fear of sounding stupid or having nothing to say, but how quickly positive feedback made me want to keep trying. So I have to remember that kids will need more practice and I will need to help them improve with feedback (which I’ve already uploaded into our online communication system).

You’ll be pleased with how well this can work with your classes, not just big ones. It worked well in my smaller class later that day on an article I provided them about Growth Mindset. So it can also be used as a means to discuss a single text that kids have read and annotated.

Have you used Twitter in your classes? How has it gone? If you haven’t, why not? What is your biggest concern? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.