Using Twitter in High School Classrooms

One of the best professional experiences I've had in a long time happened at my Teaching the iGeneration workshop in Cincinnati this week.

You see, I had the distinct pleasure of working with a super motivated team of teachers from Westfield High School in Westfield, Indiana.  They were remarkable—both as professionals and as people—reminding me of just how much powerful teaching can be when educators enjoy their work AND their peers.

Over the course of our time together, we got to talking about the different ways that Twitter can be used in schools.

Having been a Twitter fan for several years—and recognizing that there is still a lot of skepticism around social media spaces as a tool for schools in the #edusphere—I wanted to pull together some thinking around the role that Twitter can play in classrooms.

Here are three specific ideas shared by high school teachers in my PLN yesterday.


Twitter can be used as a backchannel, encouraging reflection and conversation between kids.

As a guy who needs to speak out loud in order to process information, I love to Tweet during workshops and PD presentations simply because it gives me the chance to interact around ideas without interrupting the people around me who are trying to pay attention.

Twitter serves the same purpose in the classrooms of many teachers—including Business teacher Sarah Bird, who has her students Tweet the Most Valuable Point from every lesson using a shared classroom hashtag.

Think about how valuable that could be—both for teachers and for students.

Not only are you giving students a digital home for interacting around your content that they are likely to return to on their own time, but you are making the immediate and timely feedback that is a characteristic of quality formative assessment possible.

When students can see what other kids are thinking during lessons, their own thinking is challenged.  What's more, when students can see what other kids are thinking, you've created built in opportunities for the kind of pushing and polishing that defines collaborative dialogue and knowledge creation.

Finally, when teachers can see what students are thinking, THEY get immediate feedback about the levels of mastery and misconceptions in their classrooms—which can be used to plan next steps.

 

Twitter can give students a voice that they haven't generally had.

Social media spaces are literally changing the way that elections are won and lost—and the way that our politicians operate.  Even Gordon Brown–longtime Prime Minister of the UK—recognized that policy can't be made without listening to people in social spaces.

The result: Nearly every modern campaign jumps into social media spaces feet first. 

Heck, President Obama has gone as far as to start a series of Twitter Town Hall meetings where he answers questions submitted through the microblogging platform.

If we are going to prepare our students to be effective participants in this changing political landscape, shouldn't we be showing them how to hunt down candidates for elected office in social spaces—both to learn more about positions AND to ask a whole lot of questions?

That's exactly what Jeremy Reid is teaching his Grade 11 social studies students, who have used a classroom Twitter account to reach out to candidates in local elections. 

Think about that for a second, would you? 

Traditionally, learning about candidates and their positions was a cumbersome process that few people had the time for.  The result: dismal turnouts for elections and a heaping cheeseload of under-informed voters.

Social media spaces—which are students are drawn to already—have made interacting with politicians and their ideas easier. 

That's a lesson worth learning, y'all—-and a practice worth introducing our students to—if we care about raising educated participants in a democratic society as much as we say that we do.

 

Twitter can become a place to imagine.

One of the key differences that danah boyd — a Senior Researcher at the Microsoft Research Center who specializes in studies on the ways that digital spaces are changing today's kids — has noted between Twitter and Facebook is that Twitter can be a more playful place for teens than Facebook.

The social pressures and expectations tied to participation in Facebook are often so high that they act as an inadvertent governor on student interactions.  Twitter, on the other hand, is a more casual space—the equivalent of talking in a room rather than shouting to the world. 

That makes Twitter the perfect place to ask students to imagine.

In Tracee Orman's high school English class, imagining in Twitter means pretending to be characters from the novels that they are studying in class. 

"After reading a chapter in a novel," writes Orman, "I tell them to pretend they are one of the characters from that chapter.

"Then I tell them to pretend that character has internet access (it's kind of funny to imagine someone like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird's 1930's setting to have internet).

"Then, pretend that character has an Android or iPhone (or another smart phone) and is about ready to post a new Tweet on Twitter.

What would they write?"

Talk about a fun way to engage kids in the content that they are studying, huh? 

Wouldn't this kind of imagining fall at the higher ends of Bloom's Taxonomy?  Wouldn't it take a sophisticated understanding of a character's motivations, desires, and personality to be able to accurately Tweet from his/her point of view?

And couldn't classes have GREAT conversations about characterization as they reflected on the accuracy of the Tweets being shared by their peers?

A logical extension for Orman's students would be to explore some of the popular Literary Parody Accounts in Twitter — who knew that Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allen Poe were into microblogging?! — to determine how well the fictitious accounts reflected the attitudes and personalities of the real authors.

 

In the end, using Twitter in high school classrooms makes sense mostly because it is a social space that has already been embraced by today's teens.  If we want to make our schools relevant, we need to stop turning our backs on the tools and behaviors that our kids care about.

Instead of shunning social spaces as time sinks where kids engage in irresponsible behaviors and embrace mindless tasks, let's start showing our students how they can use the spaces that they believe in to learn efficiently.

danah boyd says it this way:

Twitter and its ilk aren’t going away, and the answer to responsible use isn’t to shut teens out of public life…

What matters is not whether or not teens are speaking in public, but how we support them as they try to learn how to responsibly navigate the networked public spaces that are central to contemporary life.

She's got a point, doesn't she?  Social spaces AREN'T going away — and ignoring them because WE don't believe in them is an irresponsible practice for educators who want to create student-centered learning environments.

What our kids don't understand is that there IS a difference between social networking and social learning. There is a difference between making connections and understanding how to leverage the power of connections for learning.

Teachers — who are literally master learners — need to start integrating these kinds of lessons into their classrooms before students will begin using social spaces in the powerful ways that we all know are possible. 

 

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Related Radical Reads:

Doubting Bauerlein's Dumbest Generation

Twitter as a Social Media Starting Point for Principals

Twitter as a Tool for Professional Development

Communicating and Connecting with Social Media

Five Twitter Hashtags that can SAVE School Leaders Time

Twitter Hashtags for Educators

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Using Twitter in High School Classrooms

  1. Peter Wilson

    You said schools who turn up their noses to social media are turning up their noses to communities. I disagree with that statement. Turning up one’s nose is a judgment that could go two ways: those who promote social media turn their nose up at those who are skeptical of its use in education. There isn’t much empirical research to corroborate the argument that social media increases learning. Until more data becomes available, I believe skepticism is a reasonable, not a snobby, position.
    Also, your argument that turning up one’s nose to social media is turning up one’s nose up to communities is a non sequitur. One can work hard to build learning communities in their classrooms and, simultaneously, not use social media as a teaching and learning tool.
    Learning is a social activity, even when done in isolation. The solitary reader is interacting with a text, a process that connects two minds which is, by definition, social. Or, take the example of a class with twenty-five students who are trying to understand why Copernicus dedicated his book on heliocentrism to the Pope. Coming to that understanding together as a class, with the teacher as a guide, is a social process.
    My problem is not with the social aspect of social media. My problem is the the medium itself. The medium is the metaphor, as Neil Postman argues in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Though he critiques the medium of television, the critique could easily be applied to social media technology. Here’s the argument in short: if we teach students to think in bursts of 140 characters, then to what extent is their capacity to sustain attention on deep, complex matters handicapped? If we teach students that only short bursts of information are worth being attentive to, than what about the great works of literature by Dostoevsky or Melville that may go unread (and the authors’ insights unexamined or thoughts never considered) because they are perceived to be too long? The medium, short bursts of 140 characters or less, becomes the metaphor for how we think and live our lives. Superficial communication leads to superficial thinking and superficial living.
    I think promoters of social media are too fixated on the “social” part of it and are not serious enough about the “media” part of it. They have not considered carefully enough the implications of that media for the cognitive, intellectual, and moral upbringing of our youth.
    You say you’ve been using Twitter successfully for four years. I assume you mean in the classroom. If that is the case, it would be impossible for me to verify whether your use of Twitter has been successful or unsuccessful, mostly because I do not know anything about your learning goals. It is possible that you have been successful with Twitter. But if the learning goals you have set are flawed in some way, or if the use of Twitter did not relate to or achieve your learning goals, then I would judge the use of Twitter to be unsuccessful, regardless of any other criteria. Fair assessment of any medium’s success in education – whether it is Twitter or a traditional essay – can only be rendered in the context of the learning goals, and the appropriateness of those goals to the developmental level of the students.

  2. Hatcherelli.wordpress.com

    Hi again Bill,
    Thanks for the reply. I agree, connecting with the community is HUGE! We value the relationships that we have with all of the members of our community.
    Just to clarify…our school district is a publically funded Catholic school district

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Peter wrote:
    Last, social media spaces were created for that purpose: socializing.
    The medium is neither appropriate nor effective for intellectual work.
    Hey Peter,
    Thanks for pushing back—even if I do disagree with you! That forces me to polish my positions.
    Im planning on writing a longer response to your comments because I think they are a pretty good example of the kinds of comments that most Twitter skeptics make. That should be up sometime this week.
    What Ill ask right now is what role do you think social interactions play in learning?
    Do you ever have students working in groups? Do you think group learning—or even simply processing with a partner—-has a positive impact on student learning?
    If so, why would you look down on any tool that can be used to facilitate those interactions?
    ALL social media spaces become potential homes for interactions between individuals—-intellectual collisions so to speak. Just because our kids ARENT using them for those purposes doesnt mean that they CANT be used for those purposes—-or that we SHOULDNT be teaching our kids how to use social networking spaces to amplify their own learning.
    To suggest that deep and meaningful interactions are impossible in Twitter is simply not reflective of my experiences there—and Ive been using it extensively for learning for the better part of the last 4 years.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Hatch wrote:
    I have noticed that many of our alumni are following the school Twitter account and are staying connected.
    This is a pretty important point, Derek, that I dont want to go unnoticed. What youre learning is that marketing your school is a heck of a lot easier when you embrace social media spaces.
    Those alumni that are keeping in touch with you through Twitter—who are seeing the cool things that yall are still doing with kids and are having their own memories rekindled about school—become powerful supporters and advocates in the community.
    Thats NEVER a bad thing—whether you are a private Christian school or a public school.
    Schools that turn their nose up at social media spaces are really turning their noses up at their communities.
    No wonder we get drilled at every turn.
    Good work. Thanks for sharing,
    Bill

  5. Hatcherelli.wordpress.com

    Hi Bill,
    Great post! These are all great ways to use Twitter in a high school. Many of our students have embraced the use of Twitter in school. I believe that we need to model appropriate use of social media for our students. I have recently created a general Twitter account for my school and I use it to tweet out reminders, encouragement, kudos and pictures. This has been well received by staff and students alike.
    The other day, I was walking down the hallway and a student said to me, “Hey Mr. Hatch, thanks for the re-tweet!” I had never met that student before.
    I have noticed that many of our alumni are following the school Twitter account and are staying connected.
    I am indebted to you, Bill, as you are the one who turned me on to Twitter in the first place.

  6. Peter Wilson

    Twitter in the classroom is not a great idea. Its 140 character minimum encourages superficial, simplistic communication when students need practice with deep thinking and interpersonal dialogue with each other and with adults. Twitter is not an effective tool for learning about politics because politicians use Twitter to burnish their images and publish their talking points. We should teach students to dig deeper. Last, social media spaces were created for that purpose: socializing. The medium is neither appropriate nor effective for intellectual work.

  7. MikeGwaltney

    Thanks for sharing this Bill. I’ve found Twitter to be useful in class, though not universally appreciated by my students. Many of those who are otherwise ‘web savvy’ find it plenty of fun. I’ve written some helpful blog posts for people looking for practical strategies to using Twitter in class:
    http://mikegwaltney.net/blog/?tag=twitter
    Keep up the good work. Cheers.

  8. Renee Thompson

    Hi Mr Ferriter
    I am a student at the University of South Alabama enrolled in EDM310. It is required in this course to have a Twitter account, I was not however a BIG fan on “putting my business” on a social media network. Then I realized how much information is shared between teachers, students,and how I can learn from others. I am now excited to see what is the trending topic, as well as information about great web sites others have found. I think that Twitter for the classroom is a great idea.

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