A few weeks ago we co-facilitated write-around text on text conversations with Emily Russell’s Language Arts classes in the library. The activity was such a hit with students and Ms. Russell that we decided to take our collaboration to the next level by combining a Twitter chat with Socratic circle discussions as the culminating conversation for the reading of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I shared Ellen Hampton Filgo’s write-up of her experience as an embedded librarian via Twitter with Emily and Jennifer Lund, my co-librarian; we all felt this would be another great medium for “written” conversations. Because she had been using Socratic circle discussions with her classes since August, Emily asked if we could combine the Twitter element with this method of class discussion. We all felt this would be a wonderful medium for incorporating a Twitter chat into the classroom. After some date shuffling due to winter weather, we scheduled Friday, February 7 as the big day to debut this activity with our students.
We visited Emily’s classes the day before the chat to introduce the concept of a Twitter chat, share examples of real world Twitter chats, and then discussed Twitter chat manners/etiquette for constructive conversations. We also reviewed the hashtags that Emily had developed for each class period since we wanted to capture each discussion with Storify. Emily then reviewed Socratic circle protocols and explained how that would blend with the Twitter conversations. Students prepared questions for the discussion by sharing their lines of inquiry via notecard with Emily, and these became the springboard of initial discussions to spark conversation and additional question the following day in class.
To accommodate students who did not have a smartphone or who did not comfortable using Twitter, we offered a couple of alternatives way of participating in the virtual discussion:
1. Jennifer and I brought about 5 extra laptops to the room, and students could elect to use the laptops to Tweet with their own Twitter account.
2. For students who did not want to use Twitter, we originally planned to have them pass us their questions via an index card. However, we forgot that Emily has a set of mini-whiteboards that students use in class, so we had students write their initials and questions or comments on the whiteboards. When they were ready to “Tweet”, students held up their whiteboard, and either Jennifer or I acted as a scribe Tweeting their question or comment on their behalf along with their initials.
Emily had planned ahead of time which students would be in the initial inner circle; we posted this information on the whiteboard via a PowerPoint slide to help students get seated quickly. Emily took a few minutes to review the procedures for the day and to answer any last minute questions. She also reminded students to show love for each other by helping classmates who might be struggling to jump into the conversation by asking them a direct question to give them a gentle entry point into the discussion. Jennifer and I were in the room each period to actively participate in the Twitter chat to scribe Tweets for our “unplugged” students, to share resources of relevance to each class discussion in a responsive manner, and to interact with students in the back channel while photographing each class discussion. I also wanted to project a real-time stream of Tweets so that all students could see the Twitter conversation in progress on the whiteboard. Initially, I began by using TweetChat, but after one class, there seemed to be technical difficulties with the site, so I switched to tchat,io. This alternative turned out to be a great choice, and I highly recommend it if you want a quick and easy way to follow a Twitter chat.
Much like the write-around text on text, there was an arc of energy building with the conversation both in the Socratic circles as well as the Twitter back channel. Overall, each class felt energetic and engaged! We were also excited that fellow Language Arts teacher and collaborative partner Darrell Cicchetti and two assistant principals came to observe what was happening—the adults were just as jazzed as the students! One of the most interesting observations was to see students continuing to Tweet comments as they walked out the door. Jennifer and I were busy the entire period for each class as “embedded librarians”, and in hindsight, it was definitely an advantage to have two of us to help facilitate the Twitter conversations and to help distribute laptops, answer student questions at the beginning of the period on how to follow the hash tag on their smartphones, and to act as scribes for our “unplugged” participants.
I was easily able to capture each class’s chat with Storify and embed those conversations into a LibGuide for this activity. You can also see photo sets for each class for the day on the LibGuide as well.
The following Monday, February 10, Emily collected student feedback—what she calls “glows” and “grows”—from students via notecards as we wanted student feedback and suggestions for the future from each class. Jennifer took the notecards and compiled these highlights of student reflections:
- Overwhelmingly, students enjoyed using Twitter (got lots of favorites, loves, fun).
- “What I liked most about the Twitter chat was how we were able to be on our phones in class, but still related to school. Let’s do this more often!” -6th period student
- “What I liked about the seminar was the way the class connected. It was fun because the tweeting allowed the class to be involved in an activity that they’re used to.” -2nd period
- “Likes – being a part of the conversation without having to talk.” -2nd period
- “The tweeting was also very academic because we were able to tweet when we weren’t in the inner circle. We should definitely do that again.” – 3rd period
- “Shy people didn’t have to feel left out because they had the option of tweeting to earn points.” – 6th period
- “People engaged inside and outside the circle.” – 6th period
- “I liked the Twitter seminar because everyone was participating and no one was left out. I really did enjoy how when someone was in the inner circle the people that were in the outer circle were resounding to our conversation or giving opinions.” – 6th period
- “I liked how the outer circle tweeted while the inner circle talked. It made sure that everyone was involved and gave everyone a chance to talk.” – -2nd period
- “…everyone stated their opinions and disagreed in a respectful way.” – 2nd period
- “Everybody was into it. It was really intense and good points were brought up. Everyone had something to say.” – 3rd period
- “I felt that we were teachers on seeing each others’ insight of the Glass Castle. I would let people start off on a topic and let the conversations start.” – 3rd period
- A few mentioned how fast-paced it was – some thought too fast.
- “I didn’t like how fast we were moving from topic to topic. We also should have gotten more in depth with it.” – 6th period
- “Super fun, fast paced; loved hearing and seeing everyones’s thoughts and comments.” – 3rd period
- “Too fast. I feel like we rushed and there wasn’t enough time.” – 3rd period
- “One thing I didn’t like was how fast-paced it was and it was kinda hard to read everybody’s tweets.” – 3rd period
- “I basically loved and enjoyed everything from the desks were set up to how people were still tweeting after the bell rang.” 2nd period
- “More seminars!” – 2nd period
- “I would like to do it again. Maybe more than 1 a month. Usually we don’t talk a lot in class but Friday everybody wanted to talk and share their ideas.” – 2nd period
Overall, most of the “grows” comments were related to the oral discussion piece – wanting better questions or more time for discussion, people to speak louder. We will also definitely think about how to address the concern about the pace of the discussion and strategies to help students adapt to that challenge. A few were self-reflective in their communication skills; for example, “I will speak up next time” or “I will work on my discussion skills.” The majority of students mentioned they liked that everyone participated, everyone was actively engaged, and getting to hear other people’s opinions/thoughts.
In closing, I think we all feel like this strategy was successful, and we are already looking forward to incorporating it into Emily’s classes again and hopefully encouraging other teachers in different content areas to try Twitter chats and Socratic circles as well. Jennifer and I continue to be elated to participate as instructional partners and co-learners with our teacher and students in the library and in the classroom! We sincerely appreciate our teachers and students being willing to try new strategies and to help us pilot these kinds of literacy practices together.