Using Twitter to Promote Engagement in the English Classroom

My introduction to Twitter only came last year as a new member of the Cohort21 team. Before then, my only real understanding of the tool was that people often were fired for their tweets of body parts or racist remarks. As the year progressed, I began to see that this was an invaluable professional development gateway, and as I spent more time I realized that there were many teachers like me out there, searching for inspiration that they could then bring back to their classrooms.

Last year when I tried to introduce the notion of using Twitter as a backchannel in my AP Language and Composition class, I was amazed to hear a resounding ‘thud’ from my students. Prior to that, there had been issues of harassment at our School through Twitter, and I think parents and School admin had possibly vilified the tool as a way of keeping our students safe. A year later, students were open and somewhat apathetic about the idea.

50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom | TeachHUB 2015-01-15 21-16-33 2015-01-15 21-16-35

Every student opened a professional Twitter handle, one that would be shared with me and that could be used for academic purposes. I shared my handle with them (@brentmhurley), and I started to share with them examples of how Twitter was reshaping my personal learning. Students were interested in trying, so we started by having students tweet during my reading of Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave”. I urged students to use the class hashtag (#HurleyAPEnglish) to pose questions that they had about the text. Often, the conversation in the class is dominated by a small number of students, but this time I found excellent authentic questions being asked by students who normally would not put up their hands.

I encouraged students to continue the discussion outside of the class, and what happened was incredible. Students started finding other Twitter users discussing the same text. They built on the ideas of strangers and then made connections to other texts, philosophers, movies (like The Matrix), and engaged eachother. One student travelling to Lake Placid with the boys hockey team was tweeting from the roadtrip, something I never imagined happening. When asked by his team mates what he was doing, the student started a conversation — not about the act of tweeting for class, but instead about the comments and ideas of other students on the topic. Here’s a link to the Storify collected tweets our students had on Plato’s text.

After attending the GAFE conference in Montreal, I was inspired to find new areas where students could engage with eachother in alternative ways. One presenter shared with us the power of Google Slides, a part of the Google suite for education that I had not really tried to use before. It became clear that although Google Docs was great, it lacked in it’s ability to embed pictures and video, where Slides made that much easier. In addition, students could comment on eachother’s work, get inspiration from their peers, and build on their ideas as they prepared for the next day’s lessons. Now, as we prepare for upcoming Harkness Discussions, each group has a shared Google Slide with authentic questions and selected passages that are shared with their peers. Rather than keeping their preparation private, students are encouraged to help edit their friends’ analysis of the text BEFORE our discussion, resulting in a team effort rather than a competitive environment.

I was inspired by Derek Doucet’s recent blog about changing the culture of learning in our School,  as well as a link that he shared by Tina Barseghian who wrote a blog on creating classrooms with inquiry based learning. In addition, there are many sites that help teachers with ideas of how to use Twitter in their classrooms, and I found this one to be helpful. 

Ultimately, my journey to find an action plan that works for my classes is slowly but surely moving towards personalized learning as a means of complimenting project based learning. Regardless of where I end up, I’m sure that Twitter and placing a value on student engagement through whatever means suits their needs will play a major part.

3 thoughts on “Using Twitter to Promote Engagement in the English Classroom

  1. Hey Brent,
    That all sounds amazing and I know the students who share our classes are pumped with what you’re doing this year! I like the idea of Twitter as research tool, and what I hope to explore is the use of Twitter to connect with others to engage in conversations that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I think this is something your students would be more than ready to try, let’s chat.

    You and Tim Rollwagen are on the same page for sure and I think that what you’re both doing in your courses, are really helping to role model how things are changing and how to be effectively use the methodologies of Personalized and Project Based Learning.

    You’ve already read Tim’s blog but check out this resources, they could be helpful. I really liked the infographic that he shared about personalized learning!!

    Here is a video for 5 keys to rigorous pbl

    Check out this video –, I think this is a part of our next steps and could be useful later in your action plan.

    I checked out your Storify and I wonder if any of your students are responding to each other’s tweets? Starting conversations outside of class that can filter back in when you see them next could be a potential next step perhaps?

    I am excited about your action plan, and I look forward to sharing it with our PLC at the school to inspire others to take the leap!

  2. YES! I’ve been contemplating setting up Twitter accounts with my Middle School students and reading your post inspired me to look into this a little more deeply.

    I had an interesting experience with “back channels” that I wanted to share. During a lecture at the Klingenstein Institute, a renowned professor was giving us a lecture on neuroscience in learning…while she was doing this, she invited us to comment in a back channel at the same time. We were all thinking, “Sweeeeeeet! What a progressive way to keep students engaged!” But then half-way through the lecture, she explained that human brains can only keep one conscious thought in our brain at the time. If the additional thing we are doing is automated, then we CAN multi-task (walking and talking, for example), but if it not an automatic skill and we have to ACTUALLY THINK, we can’t do two things at once. I think collectively all the people in the hall let out a collective “OH SNAP!” at that time.

    Long story short: I’ve got some questions about the effectiveness of a back channel Twitter chat. Can students still listen / be engaged in the primary activity if they are also following along with the back channel?

    The prof. had us read this article after her mind blowing talk:

    What are your thoughts?

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