Why should teachers consider Twitter as a tool for helping students write better?
- Undoubtedly, student writing will be evaluated differently in the near future (and present), as the contexts and accepted mediums for writing rapidly accrue and shift. "The page" no longer has physical boundaries: the web has seen "the page" expand infinitely, stay firm in some mediums, and in the case of Twitter, drastically shrink down to 140 characters. Can a medium as condensed as Twitter really help people improve their writing, or is this just another example of us encouraging those darned kids to do their LOL, ROFL, OMG, :) stuff?
Enter Ann Trubek:
Ann Trubek on how Twitter affects teaching and learning:
"Here is another conversation I have about twitter. A friend or a student tells me he wants to improve his writing. I say: “You might get on twitter. It is a great way to become a clearer, more concise writer, because it forces you to choose your words carefully.” The friend looks at me as if I were crazy. Twitter can improve one’s writing? Isn’t twitter the most obvious example of how writing has gone downhill?
"Au contraire. There is a reason authors and book publishers were some of twitter’s earliest adopters and remain some of its best practitioners. Effective tweeting requires effective writing. The short form—each tweet is 140 characters or less—requires discipline. Tweets reward clarity, wit and concision. You could train yourself to be a better writer by using twitter effectively. It hones your focus on the sentence level, and the sentence is the most important unit of composition.
"Once, I asked a group of students to take an essay they had written for class and tweet it, sentence by sentence. By forcing them to fit each sentence into that white box, I was asking them to analyze every word they used and to consider how they constructed the clauses in the sentence. They were furious with me: they hated the exercise. But they all agreed they thought about their sentences more than they had when they first wrote the paper." (Emphasis mine)
That's all great, but how are educators specifically using Twitter in class?
Enter Jesse Stommel...
- Jesse Stommel assigns what he calls "Twitter Essays," which often adopt the same organizational and prewriting strategies as traditional essays.
A Twitter-essay condenses an argument with evidential support into 140 characters and is unleashed upon a hashtag in the Twitter-verse. Tweets often attempt to convey as much information in as few words as possible. A tweet could be seen, then, not as a paragon of the many potential horrors of student writing, but as a model of writerly concision. In composing their Twitter-essay, students proceed through all the steps they would take in writing a traditional academic essay, including brainstorming, composing, workshopping, and revising. I also have them consider and research their audience, the Twitter members engaged in discussion around a particular hashtag. Finally, I have them work dynamically with the Tweets of their peers, responding to them on Twitter and close-analyzing them in class. I ask the students to consider their word-choice, use of abbreviation, punctuation, etc. To model the activity and to give them a sense for the shape of a Twitter-essay, I compose my instructions for the assignment in exactly 140 characters and post them to Twitter. (Emphasis mine)
More Insight from Jesse Stommel:
For many teachers and writing pedagogues, this is a travesty, a torturous fact of modern life that we all must contend with and defend against in our classrooms. However, I would argue that we are at a moment in the history of the English language where the capacity for something wondrous is upon us. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been other wondrous moments in the evolution of human language, but there has not (and may never be again) a moment just like this one, a moment where the very fabric of how we speak and how we express ourselves through language has become so tenuous that every new textual utterance threatens to either devolve into gibberish or reinvent the very way we speak and write.
The evolution of written language is speeding up at an exponential rate, and this necessitates that we, as writing teachers, reconsider the way we work with language in our classrooms. We can no longer be the staid grammarians that taught so many of us to write, nor can we simply dismiss or overlook the teaching of grammar entirely. Rather, we must think consciously (and practically) about how our students’ conceptions of (and contexts for) writing are changing, and we must approach the teaching of grammar in new and innovative ways.
While I agree that technology has wrought a certain violence upon grammar, I would argue that writing instructors can exact an even more punishing and permanent sort of violence. Students aren’t terrified to send text messages or post status updates to Twitter or Facebook, but they are often terrified to write academic papers. (Emphasis mine)
Even More Jesse Stommel:
WORKSHEET: The Twitter Essay1. Write what I call a "Twitter Essay." In the next few weeks, we will return to some of the overarching questions of the course, so let's use this activity as a way for us to begin formulating the revised thinking we have about monstrosity, the human, horror, etc. Here are the instructions [In exactly 140 Characters]:
What is a monster? Answer in a Twitter essay of exactly 140 characters using #twitteressay. Play, innovate, incite. Don't waste a character.
Another Classroom Innovator: Ryan Cordell
- Ryan Cordell discusses not only Twitter as it relates to writing, but Twitter as it enhances research, scholarship, and active dialogue in a discipline or content area. In other words, Twitter is a great way to generate content for writing.
- From Ryan Cordell's Twitter Assignment:
"In the Digital Humanities Compendium (which drives Digital Humanities Now), you will find lists of notable blogs and Twitter feeds. You must choose at least two blogs and at least four Twitter feeds to follow during our course. You should bring the insights you glean from these sources (insights into digital humanities theory and methodology, insights into a historical period, insights into the technologies of text) into our course discussions, and you should reference specific posts when composing your class blog entries. Midway through the semester you will compose a short (3-4 page), informal paper in which you describe how your chosen social media feeds have influenced your thinking about our course discussions."
This is writing that exists simultaneously in the Profession/Discipline as it happens, as well as in the realm of classroom reflection, assessment, and outcomes.
How has writing on Twitter helped professionals approach both their own writing and student writing? Enter Alexis Lothian...
- Alexis Lothian is not only incredibly good at setting up expectations for Twitter-based writing, but also assessing that writing.
More Alexis Lothian: An example of applying writing-based expectations to Twitter:
Online writing accounts for 25% of your grade, and if you’re exceptionally good at it, you can get up to an additional 5% extra credit. Here’s how to get those points.
Your score is out of 20 points; exceptional tweeting may garner you a bonus score up to a maximum of 24
Original tweets in response to readings, assignments or class discussion: 1 point per week (total of 16). Tweeting multiple times in some weeks will not make up for weeks that you miss.
Appropriate and well executed use of Twitter syntax (RTs of relevant tweets from within or outside the class; and @ replies): 4 additional points.
Extra credit for especially thoughtful, engaged use of Twitter: up to 4 additional points.
Tweeting more will not necessarily get you this bonus. Tweeting in an especially insightful way, or responding consistently helpfully to your classmates’ questions, will.