Highlighting vocabulary words; underlining passages; drawing stars and smiley faces in the margins—these are the hallmarks of ninth grade English class. Students are encouraged to interact with the text, almost holding a conversation with it, so they can be prepared to comment and discuss. Yet when the teacher prompts her class—“Does anyone have something interesting to share about the reading from last night?”—she is greeted with silence, broken only by light whispers of book pages.
Most of us remember these uncomfortable moments the same way we remember the awkward haircuts and wardrobes that accompanied them. But now, picture a computer screen covered in hashtags and “at” signs—#shakespeare and @3rdperiodenglish. Lively debate and direct quotes continue to fill the threads four hours after school has ended. Students upload pictures of their annotated texts and ask their classmates to help them understand the nuances of iambic pentameter.
This is Chris Bronke’s freshman English class at North High School, a public school in Downers Grove, Illinois. Last August, Bronke realized that in order to “make learning more social,” he would need to utilize the very networks on which his students socialized. Introducing Twitter to his classroom was not an impulsive decision. His mission to engage students more directly was years in the making, though he describes his pedagogical progression that led him toward Twitter as somewhat trial-and-error. When he began teaching 11 years ago, he used text-marking and active reading in his classes because these were the practices that he, himself, had learned while growing up. The trouble with these practices, he found, was that he could never know where in the reading his students were having trouble, and any feedback that he did have for them was delayed until the next day’s class—a problem that eats away at the time left for teachers to dig deeper, forcing them to spend class periods rereading and reiterating.
#bronke3rdhour the stylistic choices on pg 34 add a certain drama to the chapter— Emcn2633 (@emcn2633) April 8, 2014
Then he came across a program called TodaysMeet—a forum reminiscent of AOL messenger, but designed for students and teachers to converse online. This was a move in the right direction he thought, as students began to open up in online discussion and retain those ideas for class the next day. Unfortunately, there were flaws in this operation as well. Students could participate in multiple conversations yet fail to address one another in any meaningful way. Additionally, they could respond to a question many hours after it was posed, leaving the original poster completely unaware. Over time, the lack of a direct response system, as well as an inability to track themes and comments, rendered TodaysMeet less than desirable.