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Twitter in the Classroom: Authentic conversation or "Just doing school?"

Twitter in the Classroom: Authentic conversation or "Just doing school?"

Written by Tony Iannone
November 08, 2011

My knowledge of Twitter came as the result of a conversation several years ago when the technology was in its infancy. Seeing Twitter in action with fellow NWP colleague and friend Lacy Manship while visiting the Summer Invitational of the Tar River Writing Project located on the campus of East Carolina, we wondered…what would happen if we “brought Twitter” back to the UNC-Charlotte Writing Project and attempted to integrate it into our ongoing conversation about our practice as educators?

This past summer my 3rd grade colleagues and I started to wonder what would happen if we “brought Twitter” into our classrooms…attempting to integrate microblogging into our Social Studies curriculum as a way to have authentic conversations about what we were learning…instead of “just doing school.”

Conversations about practice

Tony: I’m thinking about using Twitter in my classroom.

Lil (UNC-Charlotte Site Director…and good friend): Say more about that.

Tony: I want to see what happens when Twitter is used…by my students…to enter into a conversation…with others about what they are learning during our Social Studies block of instruction.

Lil: What have you done so far with the kids.

Tony: After we read a lesson in our textbook, I have one student “tweet” out a summary of what was learned through their engagement with the text.

Lil: Who are they “tweeting” to?

Tony: Anyone that is following us…parents, my fellow colleagues at school…we also have another class…from another school that is following our class.

Lil: I’m wondering what would happen if the students directed their thinking towards an audience that is closely related to the text they are reading? For example, authors or educators who contributed to the actual text.

Tony: I didn’t think about it that way Lil…I’ll have to see if I can “find” anyone on Twitter that contributed to the publication of the text…to “follow.”

The Lone Techie Teacher

Attempting to “bring Twitter” into my 3rd grade classroom is a problematic endeavor at best. Think back with me to the previous page of this resource where I talk to Lil about having my students use Twitter to summarize their learning related to the Social Studies text they are reading. Next, delve into the attachment titled: The Mess Behind the Resource. Go to the section titled: “So what?” Next find and read the “tweets” from Sakiyah and Rylan. These “tweets” were composed right after the students read a short piece about North Carolina festivals. It wasn’t until after the students had completed the assignment and I began writing this resource that I began to wonder how the assignment was NOT an example of the kids “doing school”…digitally? Talking to my UNC-Charlotte Writing Project peeps Lil, Cindy and Lacy enabled me to “re-see” this moment. This discussion happened while creating the attached document, The Mess Behind the Resource. Each of my colleagues read various versions of my resource and responded to it via email. We also talked about it in person and via Skype chats. The discussion revolved around my construction of something I’ll call, the “Lone Techie Teacher”/hero narrative. I’m calling it the “Lone Techie Teacher”/hero narrative because my colleagues asked me to think about how I was constructing myself, my students, the situation in my classroom and…how “the hero” was dealing with it.

“In the moment”…I was trying to create a resource that I felt would resonate with my fellow colleagues here on the Digital Is website…I wanted you to see that I had an idea, I implemented it, it worked and if it worked for me…it could work for you…”I came, I saw, I conquered!!”
Open The Mess Behind Digital Is.doc

We all do it…

The Lone Techie Teacher/hero narrative is an easy one to slide “back” towards…especially when considering the nature of this Digital Is project. Think about it…why would I NOT want YOU to SEE ME as anything less than a guy more than capable of “bringing Twitter” into his classroom? WHY would YOU even consider trying something similar if I DID NOT construct the narrative any other way? This resource is currently in its fourth major revision because each time I attempted to slide “forwards” into a more critical/reflective stance, the Lone Techie Teacher kept wanting to tell his story!! The thinking reflected within this resource would NOT be in its current “position” if it were not for the ongoing conversation I am engaged in with my UNC-Charlotte Writing Project peeps!! I say “position” because I feel that my (our) thinking about our practice is always fluid. Just go back into my attachment titled: The Mess Behind the Resource if you don’t believe me!

What I’m thinking “now…”

A sense of calm has come to me as I begin composing the last page of this resource. “Bringing Twitter” into my 3rd grade classroom isn’t as easy as training students to summarize digitally what they learned during a Social Studies lesson. It’s much more complicated than that. It involves a willingness to think and reflect. That thinking and reflecting is happening with my colleagues at school as we attempt to find individuals or groups that our students can enter into conversation with as it relates to what they are learning. The thinking and reflecting continues with my UNC-Charlotte Writing Project peeps as well as we continue to figure how “bringing technologies” like Twitter into the classroom provide moments for learning in new ways. For example, my class is currently following Discovery Education on Twitter. Discovery Education has a streaming video feature that teachers can use to supplement the materials they are already using in their classrooms. I use it to show short video clips to my students that relate to the Social Studies concepts we are learning about. We compare and contrast what we see in the videos with what we see (or do not see) in our Social Studies textbook. I’m currently thinking with my 3rd grade colleagues as to how to enter into a conversation with the Discovery Education Twitter feed.

Knowing that my 3rd grade colleagues and UNC-Charlotte Writing Project peeps are interested in engaging in this sort of conversation is what keeps me willing to expose the fluidity of my own thinking about my practice…with them. I can honestly tell you that there were several times during the writing of this resource that I felt like giving up and scrapping the whole thing! I felt angry, rebellious, unwilling to accept what I was hearing from my colleagues. Then I’d attempt to re-group, re-read what they were “saying” both in person and in their emails and Skype chats. The power of the group’s willingness to think and work collaboratively made the Lone Techie Teacher yield to…and…ultimately…re-enter the conversation. It is THIS conversation that we constructed with each other that has allowed me to bring “it” to this point…realizing NOW that YOU will help ME keep “it” going!

Want to know more about the people and ideas behind this resource?  Click the image below to link to Digital Is (K)not, a resource to tie resources together, created by the UNC Charlotte Writing Project.

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-02 16:33