Engaging Students with TwitterMarch 13, 2017
To celebrate this year’s Black History Month, Berkeley County Schools students read and studied One Book, Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover. If you don’t already know Kwame Alexander or his work, you should definitely check him out. WVCTE had a chance to meet Kwame and hear him speak on NCTE ’16 in Atlanta. He is an incredibly inspiring and engaging speaker, writer, and fellow human.
The Crossover is a YA novel written in verse that follows the story of a young basketball superstar named Josh, dubbed Filthy McNasty, his twin brother Jordan, their retired professional ball player dad, and their PhD vice-principal mother. Like its writer, The Crossover is inspiring and engaging, breaking stereotypes and raising important questions about family, loyalty, relationships, adolescence, and the biases we bring to our reading experiences.
To top off our Black History Month studies and celebrate our One Book, a few of us decided there was no better way to wrap up good reading than with good conversation. Because many of us are active Twitter users and consider our connections on Twitter to be meaningful PLCs, we decided to extend that opportunity to students here in Berkeley County.
The lovely Jeni Gearhart, WVCTE Executive Committee member, proposed the plan, and after a few emails, a few graphics, and a little bit of hype, the first ever Berkeley County One Book Twitter chat was born.
We decided to host a “slow chat” and release questions each hour beginning at 7:45. We asked students to ponder the writer’s craft and the big ideas in the text, which made for a rich discussion.
Below are a few teacher reflections and highlights of that chat.
First of all, I am now a certified Kwame Alexander fangirl. My students had a great time writing imitation poetry, and Kwame even retweeted some of our work. Much as I loved this book, I think the best part of this learning experience was the collaborative nature of it. Being able to have conversations with other teachers and other students about the text made it more significant than just a normal, isolated learning experience. My students enjoyed the #crosschat Twitter chat because it made the conversation more authentic. The reading experience became real, rather than just another assignment. I can’t wait to participate in something similar again, and I’ve been already mulling around new ideas of how to make this happen again!
After listening to Kwame Alexander read excerpts from his books and meeting him at #NCTE2016, I knew that I had to introduce my students to his lyrical and mellifluous writing. Just as I had hoped, my students were immediately drawn to the rhythm and rhyme of each of his lines. They wanted to read the entire book aloud. To say the least, Crossover was a hit with my 9th grade students! When the opportunity came about to #CrossChat on Twitter with other local high schools my students were excited to collaborate about a book that they had in common. Twitter offers so many possibilities for bringing students and teachers together in a fun, real-time, “techy kind of way.”
#CrossChat was no doubt a great day of learning. All six of my classes, from AP Literature to on-grade English 10 shared in a fun and thoughtful conversation with fellow Berkeley County students.
Here’s my two cents on Twitter in the classroom: It works. Twitter provides engaging and relevant content. And when harnessed to elevate learning, it’s undeniably effective. As a teacher, I’ve made some of my most meaningful professional connections on Twitter — I’ve been endlessly inspired by colleagues from across the country, I’ve been forced to reflect and reassess my practice, and I’ve shamelessly celebrated my students and their incredible work. I believe students may find Twitter an exciting forum for learning as well.
And that’s exactly what happened in #CrossChat. My students were eager to hear the thoughts of other students outside our class, to see how they agreed or disagreed, and to learn how others considered the text. Students were surprised by the novelty of using social media in class, but they were more surprised by the quality of conversation. Many were eager to share, and many more were eager to “listen.”
And those are skills that never go out of style — to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and to learn to listen to others.
I first read The Crossover last year, after seeing student after student devour it during independent read time. The few times I went to our school library to check it out, it was never there. I saw the way both readers and “not-yet-readers” connected to it, and finally bought a copy. I read it, laying in a swing under a summer sky, and I can remember that spell settling down on me. You know the one. When a book stretches outside the boundaries of its cover, and wraps itself around you in a net of words and magic. When I finished the last page, I snapped the book shut and hugged it close to my chest, and let hot tears spill down my face. I knew that this was a book that every kid should have an opportunity to read and love.
I then, of course started tweeting at students who I knew should read the book.