Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fried Writing: 140 Characters at a Time by GCT Jenny Kirsch

Guest Blogger: Jenny Kirsch

Blog: Twitter: @MsJennyKirsch

Middle School English teacher, Google Certified Teacher. 

I'm interested in the intersection of reading and writing, and believe technology can enhance both of these pursuits.
Recently, I introduced my 5th Grade English students to a class Twitter account. I was a slow adopter of Twitter, registering my handle a good six months before I ever tweeted. Once I got it, however, I was in deep. I have Twitter to thank for the Google Teacher Academy, my ever-expanding PLN, my motivation to finally start my personal blog. So, having discovered its amazing potential to connect users across the world, I was eager to introduce the technology to my students.

My current group of 5th Graders participated in a blogging unit as part of their 4th Grade Writers' Workshop curriculum, and I was pleased to see how many lessons on digital citizenship and online safety had stuck with them. Before we got to the meat of Twitter as a learning tool, they understood why our account was anonymous, and why our profile did not include the name of our school or students. When someone suggested our avatar ought to be our school logo, another student immediately chimed in, “But then someone would be able to connect our Twitter to us!” and the others agreed. Another sage piece of advice from my 5th Graders: “On the internet anyone could see what you write, so you can't use personal information. You shouldn't tweet where you li
ve or where you’re going after school."

Satisfied that my students were safety-savvy, I moved on to explain that all three sections of 5th Grade English would be tweeting from a shared account. I asked them, “What do you already know about Twitter?”

"It's a way to send messages, but they go to the whole internet, so they're more like announcements."
“It’s kind of like instant messaging, but different.”
"On Twitter you can write tweets about what you're working on or something you're really excited about."

I was delighted to see that the students had a fairly clear, if basic, understanding of how people use Twitter. Together we brainstormed ideas for class tweets, including favorite quotes, examples of descriptive and figurative language, and class news. Though it might not seem it at first, one of the best teaching opportunities Twitter has to offer is the vocabulary challenge of expressing oneself well within the confines of 140 characters. To that end, I brought up a new tweet window on our SMARTBoard and starting typing. The students were shocked at how quickly I used up our character limit. Particularly surprising to them was that even blank spaces counted against your 140 characters. We practiced writing a few tweets, swapping synonyms and abbreviations to make our words fit without compromising our message.

Of course, Twitter is a tool of social media, and my students were excited to pick a fe
w accounts to follow. We started with some kid-friendly choices including @NASA and YA author Rick Riordan (@camphalfblood). We followed Jacqueline Harvey, author of the popular series, Alice Miranda, and you can imagine our delight when she @messaged us! 

By the end of their introduction to Twitter my students were excited to move forward with the project, but when I showed them we were following @wimpykid, the roof exploded off of our little Twitter experiment. With a single tweet, the entire concept clicked and these 5th Graders were hooked. Thank you, Jeff Kinney, for your perfect timing!


J. Mark Coleman said...

I have started tweeting with my high school students this year. We have been wading into the waters first quarter and now with second quarter starting we are diving in. We meet every other day, so the night of class everyone will tweet their takeaway from the day's class. Night two they have to @ reply someone and add to the other's takeaway.

We will see how it goes. I am optimistic.

Amy Mayer said...

Thanks for the comment Mark. That's exciting! I'm sure your students will love it. Let us know how it goes!

J. Mark Coleman said...

I actually put a bit of time into my letter home to parents about Twitter. If anyone is interested I suggest communicating with parents first. Here is the shared doc for anyone to C+P and use as a start of their own letter home.

And today I had my first profanity show up in the feed. An exchange student used the wrong app on her phone, she says. Hopefully it is the last. It was what I call a primetime word anyway. Officially verboten, but nothing you couldn't hear on network TV.

Amy Mayer said...

Very nice! Thanks so much for sharing, Mark!