Walk into Jill Ouellette’s second grade class and ask how many writers there are. Every hand enthusiastically shoots skyward. 16 self proclaimed adventurers and explorers who come up with ideas while reading, playing with legos, riding their bikes. They tell me they have millions of ideas-and my question to them was this: Who knows about all your ideas?
Their answers were strikingly similar. Mostly it was their parents, sometimes a lucky grandparent or a friend. Never anyone out of their small social circles. I thought them ripe for expansion.
I have to admit that what follows is NOT my original idea. I was inspired by Kristin Ziemke, a second grade teacher from Chicago who was a speaker at this year’s Leveraging Learning Institute in Auburn, Maine. Kristin spoke about how she used Twitter to help fan her student’s interest in writing and sharing their ideas. She gave examples of their skills when they started and their skills as they became more experienced. I was totally convinced that this was a great idea.
What I didn’t have was a classroom of my own to try it in so I had to hijack one. This is where Jill came in. Jill’s new to our school but not new to teaching. She’s had experience in technology rich classrooms. She doesn’t cringe when she sees me coming – in fact, when I approached her with the idea, she jumped on it. It helps that she’s in her twenties and familiar with Twitter.
I started by having a chat with the students. I asked them to tell me the story of their classroom. I didn’t frame it much. I wanted to hear their words. That’s the first and probably the most important thing in using Twitter or any sort of microblogging. The students need to know that it is THEIR ideas that are important. This is not a formal assessment.
I shared Kristin’s feed (@OurKidsTeach) so students that are not familiar with Twitter can see what it’s all about. I said we’d be reading, seeing, and listening to the story of her students’ classroom. We picked apart the timeline so students had an understanding that they could share via photo, text, or video. We looked at all the different ways this classroom shared information. They had things they wondered about. They had impromptu book reviews. They had photos of artwork and classroom show and tell items. There was no “theme” other than ideas that went through the students heads.
What’s the benefit to having these early writers tweet? Here’s just a few:
- students show their engagement with content in a personal way
- students learn to share ideas more freely. Punctuation and spelling will follow
- students get an authentic audience for their writing
- ideas spark more ideas
- students learn the concept of digital citizenship and digital footprint early on. I touched briefly on what they would want to include in their classroom story and what they would want to leave out. They were spot on, even at 7! It also provided a great way to begin addressing online safety. We decided as a class that initials would be a great way to identify each student safely.
The second graders were excited to start. As with anything, practice is important so I had come equipped with paper tweets. I asked them what part of their classroom story they’d like to share, and how they’d like to represent it. Could they draw a picture, they asked? Of course. Did spelling count? Not a bit, I said. Get your ideas down and post them for others to see.
Talk about 100% participation. Some wrote quick notes and brought them over to me. No spell checking, no “take it back and fix this” in this exercise. I took each tweet and posted it on a “feed” on the wall as it was finished. Some students took great care in drawing a picture to represent their idea (multimodal learning works well!) The responses were varied, ranging from “How do you build a spaceship” to “I love Fun Friday.” Students were very interested in reading the ideas of others. Conversation broke out all over the room.
The next step was to hand out laminated Tweets. These are their “real” everyday Tweets and can be written on with dry erase markers. I made them to fit on 11X17 paper to make writing easier for little hands. (Blank Tweet templates are available here. Please feel free to share them). Jill allowed them to put them anywhere in the room as long as they were easily visible. Students wrote and hung their first official tweets and it was time for me to leave.
I checked back with Jill a week later. She said they were still excited about tweeting and were updating them regularly. She created a classroom account. You can follow it at @missoulette88 to see their progress. Here’s one that one of her students posted after a lesson on fractions- visual proof of the connection the student made with the content.
Note: It’s important to get parental buy-in for this process. Draft a letter explaining the purpose of this tool and the process students will use when posting. (Most teachers do the posting.) Be sure to have a signed media release on hand prior to posting any photos or videos of students.