To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Over the past twelve years, I’ve watched my students progress from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter, not to mention the hundreds of other apps-of-the-moment. The one constancy in this trend is that students are online, interacting all day, every day. In fact, most of their social lives are now taking place digitally. Sure, they still meet up for a basketball game or to go to a party, but the days of phone call invites has ended. Instead, they Facebook message or tweet each other.

 

This year, I finally realized that if I wanted to reach these students where they “live,” I was going to have to get with it and embrace the “classroom with no walls.” I was going to have to let go of my fears and worries concerning this un-moderated digital universe and make an effort to use a tool that most teens were already familiar with (and loving)—Twitter.

 

In January, as I began to outline my lesson plans for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I realized that I was no longer excited about teaching something that I’d always loved. Instead, I was bored with it, knowing that with each passing year the language and themes seem to drift further and further from my students’ reaches. I decided it was time! I was going to use Twitter… and my students were too. But how?

 

In an early morning, wait-for-the-alarm-clock moment, it struck me like one of those orange angry birds. My students were going to tweet as the characters from the play. Each student would assume the role of one of the characters from Hamlet on Twitter for the entirety of our study of the play (six weeks or so).

Before assigning my cool new idea, I needed to double-check that this epiphany had actual educational merit.

 

Would it meet the benchmark requirements? It took mere moments of skimming the Florida standards to realize that it met (and surpassed) multiple standards for our curriculum. This was a one stone/ two birds situation!

 

Some of the standards met by this assignment are:

  • Using and understanding current technology
  • Understanding author’s purpose and perspective
  • Understanding cause and effect
  • Discovering main idea Inference, paraphrase, and summary
  • Sharing with others and publishing work Writing in a variety of styles and tones Identifying theme and giving textual evidence to support it
  • Writing in expressive, reflective, and creative forms
  • Using Mass Media and digital technology
  • Creative writing skills, such as: tone, point of view, character, and writing with concision and clarity

Why Shakespeare?

First, Hamlet was already scheduled for the seniors (which made it convenient); but more importantly, Shakespeare reads much like a foreign language to my students and this assignment translates his work into their speech—the speech of digital natives.

Why Tweeting?

Twitter allows students to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Asking my high schoolers to condense pages of complicated Renaissance dialogue into a few words truly proved a challenge, but the “fun” outweighed the frustration any student felt about translating and synthesizing. In addition to requiring these higher-order thinking skills, Twitter allowed my quiet, non-vocal students to have a voice in the classroom. There was no need to raise a hand and draw attention, simply write and send a tweet electronically. There were students from four different classes interacting with each other throughout school days and over weekends. I saw students bonding as characters on my feed that I’d never seen speak as students in the classroom.

 

Sixty students shared in the experience of reading Hamlet for the first time. Students who hated reading were suddenly intrigued to learn more about their character. “Why is Horatio always in the background?” “What do you mean Laertes is in France? What do I write about now?” “I’m dead? Do I write as a ghost?” Often, there were questions posited that I’d never considered. “Sure, maybe a ghost can tweet.” “Um, yeah, Laertes could be tweeting posts back home to his sister.” “Okay, you can tweet a final line upon dying, and ‘Oh, I die, Horatio” is fine.”

 

In some ways, the lessons went much further than knowledge of a great writer’s most famous work. Our Twitter feed became a lesson in responsibility. Students had to consider—some for the first time—what was appropriate for a public forum. In the beginning, this was my greatest fear—that my students would curse, write about inappropriate topics, or use the medium as a social tool, but my fears were unfounded. There were zero problems or issues- though I can partially attribute this to the fact that most of them are seventeen or eighteen years old.

 

In addition to learning about using social media responsibly, my students seemed to realize that “learning” did not have to be the result of studying a textbook on a desk in a school; every second is an opportunity to learn.

Results?

The results speak for themselves. My students not only understand Hamlet, they love it. They talk about it in the hall, and other teachers ask me about what’s happening on Twitter. My quiz grades have been higher than any in the past twelve years of teaching this piece. And perhaps the most uplifting of the results is that my students enjoyed themselves in school! They wrote tweets at midnight, on Saturday mornings, in the halls during break time, at their baseball games, and even during class. They interacted with a long-dead poet on a daily basis and came out of it with confidence, knowledge, and a love for a man whose words are beginning to fade from our language.

 

So, to tweet or not to tweet? The answer: tweet.

 

EDITORS NOTE: Post originally appeared on Nikki Morrell’s blog.

Nikki Morrell

Nikki Morrell

Educator at Lake Mary Preparatory School

Nikki Morrell is a freelance writer, poet, and black belt. She holds a B.A. in English from King College and a Masters of Humanities from Tiffin University. Morrell teaches at both a small private college preparatory school in Orlando, FL, and at Tiffin University. Over the past twelve years, she has taught English literature and writing, dance, cheer, and drama. Her childhood was spent in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Tennessee reading everything she could get her hands on and telling ghost stories around a campfire. These days, most of the telling takes place in the virtual world.

http://www.nikkimorrell.com/

  • http://theminorprophet.blogspot.com Josh Luukkonen

    Great article. I’m actually about to do the same thing with Act II of Macbeth in my English classes. Each Act will have a small project attached, and each group will re-write a scene using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or maybe G+. Nice to see others are doing the same sort of things!  Thanks for that article. 

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Nikki’s basic premise that active and dynamic online tweets, or exchanged thoughts, can greatly enhance student learning and social experience.  But I challenge the choice to use Facebook or Twitter for such collaboration.  According to recent financial news, both sites plan a sharp move to the dark side.  Both Facebook and Twitter will some begin prolific advertising injected into user comment streams, and ultimately will begin selling user data for mass marketing exploitation.

    As a consequence, I believe, private social networks will develop on colleges and universities where this kind of dynamic student exchange can happen without the risk to their privacy.  

  • http://www.nikkimorrell.com/ Nikki Morrell

    There is definitely something to be said for developing a more private site for student use (though I do wonder if this will take some of the “fun” out of it for our students), but until that is available, Twitter and Facebook are the easiest and most familiar. I am interested to see what the new advertising will look like and how much it will affect us on these social media sites.

    Ideally, I would like to see a site for schools which allows teachers to set up a discussion board (or maybe even something similar to tweeting) for multiple school use. Classes in different schools, states, or even countries could tweet or facebook about the same material. For example, if a school in DC and one in CA could set up Facebook pages for characters in a book that both are reading. Wouldn’t that be great? Of course, a private site only available through a school would make the environment safer, and as you mention, free of advertising.

  • http://www.nikkimorrell.com/ Nikki Morrell

    Great idea, Josh. Good luck on your project; I’d love to hear how your students respond!

  • @RyanGreelish

    This is a fantastic idea and I give you a large amount of credit for following through with the idea when am sure many criticized it probably from older generations. I am so happy for those students to have had you as a teacher. I would bet that they not only learned more about Shakesphere than other reused lesson plans, but also life lessons that they would not have learned before college!!! Very inspiring! I hope you share this through other mediums and present this at conferences for others to learn from. Continue to think out of the box and student will learn the most from you than anyone else in their lives!

  • Brian

    Well done! I read this on the edge of my seat.

  • http://twitter.com/nikmorrell Nikki Morrell

    Thanks, Josh! I’m excited to hear how your MacBeth project works out.  Be sure to let us know.  You can email me at nikki@nikkimorrell.com.

  • http://twitter.com/nikmorrell Nikki Morrell

    Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/nikmorrell Nikki Morrell

    Ryan, thank you for the suggestions! I am already brainstorming for a few local conferences… we’ll see how it goes!

  • http://twitter.com/LaurieBoettcher Laurie Boettcher

    Absolutely brilliant! I love how you made this such a phenomenal experience.

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  • http://twitter.com/teentwiction Teen Twiction

    Hi, you should check out my site which actively encourages teachers to do this with their students. It’s called Teen Twiction (www.teentwiction.co.uk) – we hold a competition each year for the best!

    You can also find lesson plans and ideas for trying this with students on the site too. Anything your students do (or have done) you can enter to be in the competition.

    You can also follow on Twitter @teentwiction:disqus 

  • http://twitter.com/teentwiction Teen Twiction

    Hi, you should check out my site which actively encourages teachers to do this with their students. It’s called Teen Twiction (www.teentwiction.co.uk) – we hold a competition each year for the best!

    You can also find lesson plans and ideas for trying this with students on the site too. Anything your students do (or have done) you can enter to be in the competition.
    You can also follow on Twitter  @twitter-273892707:disqus 

  • http://twitter.com/teentwiction Teen Twiction

    Hi, you should check out my site which actively encourages teachers to do this with their students. It’s called Teen Twiction (www.teentwiction.co.uk) – we hold a competition each year for the best!
    You can also find lesson plans and ideas for trying this with students on the site too. Anything your students do (or have done) you can enter to be in the competition.
    You can also follow on Twitter @undefined:disqus

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