Monthly Archives: September 2014

How I’m using Twitter with my students

This year I’ve required my students to use two apps to assist their learning: Twitter and Evernote. It may be some time before I’m ready to report back on how our shared Evernote notebooks alter my teaching and the students’ experience, but I’ve already done a number of things with Twitter that have worked fairly well. I tried several of these activities last year when using Twitter was optional for my students, but since I threw myself over the cliff and made participation mandatory this fall, the results have been more satisfactory.

Here are some of the ways I’m employing this social network for educational purposes:

a) Plain old back channel. My students look befuddled whenever I use the term “back channel,” but they are starting to get the idea nonetheless. I’ve been using our class hashtags to encourage silent conversation; especially as students are finishing up quizzes at different rates. I can tweet out a discussion prompt to get the conversation started (e.g. “What do you think about the referendum that is happening in Scotland today?”), and as students finish their quizzes, they silently join the conversation. I want my students to take all the time they need on quizzes, but I also don’t mind the fact that they are eager to join the conversation in the back channel, so they will go ahead and hand those quizzes in rather than obsess over tiny details.

b) Exit ticket. Asking students to tweet out a summary of what they learned in class, or one take-away from the lesson, prior to leaving the room is another way I’m employing Twitter. With Tweetdeck up on the screen, students tweeting using our class hashtag create a collaborative record of what we covered. The social media element to this is a boon: parents, administrators, and colleagues all can enjoy a transparent view into what my class is doing.

c) Review sessions. I tried using the Twitter chat format to hold review sessions prior to the big departmental grammar test last spring, and it worked well. However, I only had about five participants. This year, with Twitter required for my class, I held an optional review session for my freshmen prior to our first vocabulary quiz, and I had about 20 participants. The energy was very positive, and since I held the session during our school’s evening study hall, a number of proctors got to see what was going on as it happened. The students asked me to do this again, and I certainly will, but it is a fair amount of work to set up. I prewrite review questions and print them out, then I take photos of them with my cell phone. As the chat is going on, I tweet out a new question using my phone every five or so minutes while also managing the chat from Tweetdeck on my laptop simultaneously. A lot of things can go wrong, but the two times I’ve done this, it has worked like a charm.

d) Haiku summaries. When my sophomores wrote short essay responses to a prompt concerning Antigone last week, I asked them to tweet out a summary of their essay’s argument in the form of a haiku (and with the class hashtag, too). These haiku were wonderful; in some cases one might argue that they are better than the actual essays! I love that a visitor scrolling through our class hashtag would see this wonderful, aesthetic collection of aphoristic pronouncements on the nature of tragedy.

That’s just a taste of what I’m doing this year. I continue to think about my motto: “Classroom first — Classroom everywhere” and how it guides my use of Twitter with my students. I want to use Twitter to both project my classroom outward and to bring the outside world in. I showed my students a couple of tweets from a best-selling author with whom I was Twitter-chatting (I asked him for writing advice for my students), and I want to do more to bring inspiration to them from beyond the four walls of our classroom.

Also, I need to get a school-wide #gschat on the schedule again. Note to self . . .

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What my students taught me in class today

I took a class on tragic literature while working on my MA (taught by Prof. Lincoln Konkle at TCNJ), so I enjoy sharing some theories for interpreting tragedy with my sophomores each year when we read Antigone and Macbeth. We cover Aristotle, Hegel, and Nietzsche, but most years I give short shrift to Nietzsche because I’m rushing through material, and his theory of the Apollonian and Dionysian is challenging for tenth graders. But this year I’m teaching Advanced Sophomore Literature and Composition, and I want to crank the level of intellectual challenge up a notch, so I designed a lesson for our “lab period” today that I hoped would help make the Apollonian and Dionysian concept stick with my students.

Basically, I made a list of 25 people/businesses/events/things from contemporary culture, and I asked the students to place each item on a spectrum from most Apollonian to most Dionysian. You can see the handout and a sample below.

thing2 classwork1

I broke the students up into groups of three or four, and they discussed each item on the list. They used the two columns of traits borrowed from Nancy Taylor’s web site to define what is Apollonian and what is Dionysian. There was a joyful energy of noisy hubbub in the room as the students worked, which always makes me feel like I’ve done my job well.

It turns out that I designed an activity that was deeper and smarter than I anticipated. You see, I was thinking a lot about the items on my list that were on the outer edges of the spectrum, but the insights are gained from the items that the students thought were equal mixes of Apollonian and Dionysian. After all, that’s Nietzsche’s theory: Greek tragedy is great because it mixes the two elements. So, for instance, one of the items on my list for the students was The National Football League. Clarence argued, persuasively I think, that the NFL is both Apollonian and Dionysian. The rules and strategy are very complicated and logical, but the fan experience is often full of boozy revelry. The insight that came to me as I discussed this with the students is fairly obvious: Greek tragedy was one of the highest expressions of ancient Greek Culture, and the NFL has a similar role in contemporary American culture. Nietzsche would be proud: We proved that it is a balance of the Apollonian and Dionysian forces that leads to gigantic popularity of a pastime.

I also learned that, if you have the projector on in your classroom and you google Nicki Minaj, there is nothing you can click on that is appropriate for a class full of fifteen year olds to see.