Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In what is rapidly becoming a year of experiments in the classroom, I am endeavoring, if my district administrators will cooperate, to see if Twitter can not only initiate discussion from reluctant participators, but if it can actually make students better writers.
Honing response writing
As I mentioned in a prior post, our students are struggling on the written response section of the achievement test. Administrators are endeavoring to improve writing with multiple strategies -- not the least of which is using an archaic formula writing that students shy away from, because it's simply not fun and doesn't involve technology.
My feeling is that like most things in teaching and learning, students will improve if they enjoy the activity. Since I think Twitter is fun, I believe students will embrace it and subsequently enjoy writing. If they like to write, it stands to reason that they'll do it often and improve their skills.
Can Tweeting be like "microtheming?"
Professor and author, John C. Bean (Microtheme Strategies for Developing Cognitive Skills) explains the microtheme, which is a simple, lucid approach to answering questions. Bean's design is clearly aligned with what graders of achievement tests want to see in short response writing. Following is an example of "microtheming," supplied by biology professor Ivan Palmblad.
QUESTION: How did the skull and pelvis of fossil "Lucy" revolutionize our thinking about human evolution?
ANSWER: Lucy walked upright and yet she had a small brain which contradicted the thinking that the large brain came before walking man.
The above answer is 126 characters, including spaces and punctuation -- 14 fewer than Twitter's maximum allowable 140 characters.
Here is an example from a test for seventh graders.
QUESTION: Based on the selection, predict Helen Keller's attitude toward future lessons.
ANSWER: Helen Keller will likely have a positive attitude toward future lessons, because she says "I left the well house eager to learn."
This response is only 129 characters and, like the one from Professor Palmblad, is grammatically correct.
There are two foreseeable issues with using Twitter for this sort of writing practice. One is text-style writing. Students will have to be coached to write properly for class. The second is the potential for students to write responses that too closely emulate peer responses. Twitter discussions, after all, are streamed for all in the group to see. If this is practice tool, though, this sort of "copying" may not hurt students' improvement. As long as they are emulating good writing, the overall goal can still be reached.
Will it work?
With some minor experimenting with responses and character counting, it appears that Twitter can be used effectively in the K-12 classroom for practicing short response writing. Of course, the real proof can only be revealed after the experiment, when the achievement test results are in.