Student Well-Being Opinion

Twitter Chats Complement Class Discussions

By Starr Sackstein — March 21, 2017 3 min read
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A room full of engaged students eagerly read on their phones. The room is silent, which is weird when one considers we are having an in-depth conversation about an academic article or a broader topic where different articles are employed.

So if you’re scratching your head right now and wondering how that’s possible, the answer is Twitter. This is the fifth year that I’ve been successfully using Twitter in my classes to facilitate classroom discussion and it has worked in more than one school setting.

The first chat is always the most challenging.

Recommending that students create a separate account specifically for this class, students need time to set it up. We must also account for the fact that not all students use Twitter and a brief tutorial will need to be done to ensure proper and appropriate usage. This is also a great opportunity to have a discussion about digital citizenship, infusing social media etiquette and academic expectations.

It’s a good idea to cover the following topics:

  • help them select a professional handle that is appropriate for school that employs at least part of their name so they are easily identifiable
  • recommend a short profile that expresses something about them that their classmates might not know and uses an appropriate picture
  • how to tweet and limitations of the characters - perhaps discuss ways to extend the limits using (½) (2/2) notations or extend tweet apps if they are working on their phones/ipads
  • teach them to use the hashtag and why they need to use it to help archive and participate
  • teach them how to use the quote tweet function if they want to retweet but add value
  • explain what each of the functions are on a tweet that they can use during class
  • make sure they understand that what they are posting is public and should be appropriate for school
  • teach them about bitly.com to shorten links if they are adding support to what they are posting

Built into each week’s routine, on Friday, students are reminded to bring their own devices and come ready to chat about an article that is sent to them the day before (or a few days before depending on how much time they will need to read) via email.

In the beginning of the term, I routinely selected articles that support work going on in the class, but as more time goes on, the students will be tasked with article selection too. Part of that scaffolding process has been to invite students to answer weekly surveys that offer them possible topics they’d like to know more about. Once they all vote, I gather a few articles that range in complexity to make sure they all have something that is appropriate and ensure choice is also provided.

As the week progresses, I pay attention to what topics can use more context or connection and then on Wednesday or Thursday, I decide what we should read. Sending an email to the students, I provide a link and directions for the chat the next day, suggesting they read the article ahead of time and annotate it for easy reference in class.

During class time the next day, they have time to review the article and do the following:

  • Post 3 original tweets directly referencing the article

  • Post 2 original questions about the article to other students

  • Respond to at least 3 different student’s posts - always making to sure to add value in their responses.

The chat begins at the bell. Finding a seat among students, I log onto Twitter too and join the chat making sure all students get recognized at least once and reminding kids to always use the hashtag.

Are you asking yourself if I worry about students being off task on their phones? Because I don’t. Students like adults may wander for a minute or two, but as long as they remain on task for the majority of time, I refuse to babysit my senior students. Students must be trusted and if they see the value in what we are doing as a class, they will want to participate. Trust goes a long way.

The period usually passes quickly and full class participation is easy to track. Teachers can gather a plethora of data based on the tweets from each conversation:

  • the amount of participation

  • the quality of comments

  • understanding of the text

  • the complexity of their questions

and instruction can be adjusted based on the data learned.

In addition to the data collected, students enjoy it! Check out what one of them had to say on the subject:

I find the experience using Twitter fun for me, especially since I have different social media accounts other than Twitter. Twitter benefits classroom discussion because people can feel more comfortable expressing what they believe using social media instead of sharing out loud. The only challenge I've experienced using Twitter is having the amount of words limited to express my thoughts, sometimes I struggled by having too many words so I couldn't express my thoughts to their full potential. I enjoy using Twitter for class discussions because I get to interact with classmates more than I do in a class without using social media" - Erik Brown, Long Island City High School junior

An added bonus of the chats is the curation possibilities. We can teach students about curation and the tools for doing it as well as create a digest of the conversations as a reference for later. Imagine being able to reference past conversations and mention by tweet as a resource the information to develop conversation.

How can you implement Twitter into your classroom to invite more students to participate in the learning? 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.