Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Caught Reading: Measuring Penny

Engaging students in measuring objects and space around us is active and fun! Remember, measuring is always doing – and we all measure, all the time. Consider how often you hear questions that start like this:

Lauradaughterreading

My daughter and I recently got caught reading Measuring Penny. While reading, we talked about how we measure qualities of the world every day, including length, volume, and time.

How much…

When will it be time to…

How big…

Will this fit…

Do I have enough…

How old…

Is this too much…

How do these compare…

We ask these kinds of questions every day at home, at school, at work, at the store, on the bus, and at the park. Be sure to tell your students how answering these kinds of questions involves mathematical thinking and increases our reasoning and analytical skills. Use examples and point out the connections between investigation, measurement, and number.

While measurement is often viewed as a matter of procedure, there’s really more to it. Think about what features of certain objects and spaces are measurable, and why we even care about size and scale. Think about comparisons. Think about magnitude. Think about precision and estimation; whole units and parts. All of these ideas are fundamentally related to measurement, and contribute in important ways to our awareness of and actions in the world.

Determining the amount, size, or degree of something is necessary and useful. This is clearly illustrated in Loreen Leedy’s Measuring Penny. In this story, Lisa learns a lot about her dog, Penny, by measuring. Lisa measures Penny’s height, compares Penny’s weight to other dogs’ weight, considers how much food and water Penny needs every day, and calculates how fast Penny runs. Lisa is identifying many different measurable attributes of Penny and being her care-taker. She uses different tools and both standard and non-standard units to measure and explore. She is deepening her understanding of quantities and number and enriching her perspectives on her special pal, Penny, and what it means to take care of a pet. Illustrations in the book show us how to measure and why measuring can be so powerful!

Consider using books like this in your classroom. Be sure to highlight these big ideas related to measurement that help us bring conceptual understanding and procedural understanding together.

Big Idea #1: Identifying, describing, and comparing measurable attributes of objects around us helps us make sense of everyday life.

Big Idea #2: Specific techniques, tools, and formulas are used to determine measurements.

Measure and explore with your students, and share your thoughts and reactions in the comment section below. Tell us how you develop understanding of measurement in your work with children.

For additional ideas and materials on this topic, check out

Annenberg Learner’s Learning Math: Measurement for K-8 teachers

Eames Powers of Ten

Literacy in the 21st Century

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 2 of 3 (Go to Part 1)

LIT 16“Literacy is no longer a static construct from the standpoint of its defining technology for the past 500 years; it has now come to mean a rapid and continuous process of change in the ways in which we read, write, view, listen, compose, and communicate information.” (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2014. Handbook of research on new literacies.)

Traditional views of literacy learning and development are changing to reflect a more global view of understanding and communicating in today’s increasingly complex world. It will come as no surprise that students spend a lot of time using technology outside of school. But what teachers are beginning to think more about is how this explosion of technology impacts the ways students read, write, think, and communicate about their world. Whether engaged in social media, texting, making videos, sharing images, reading e-books, or navigating the Internet, students are using a variety of literacy practices and tools. Combining these practices with other outside-of-school activities in which literacy plays a part—such as independent reading, writing, performance, and even sport—it becomes evident that many students engage in substantial literacy-based activities beyond their schoolwork. There is a high degree of motivation when students select their literacy practices and venues. Given this, it is important for teachers to understand the out-of-school literacy practices students bring to school and to relate them to school-based learning. This connection will expand and enhance their use of multiple literacies.

“Students engage in literacy practices and learning outside of school, learning they consider powerful and important. Typical approaches to secondary school content learning often overlook the learning and literacy practices that youth engage in apart from their school-based, content learning (Moje, 2008).”

Given the knowledge and expertise students have in using technology outside of school, digital literacy can play a significant role in school as a way to maximize productive learning. This requires instruction in new literacies, including how to determine where to find relevant information, analyze and evaluate websites, summarize and synthesize important information, incorporate videos, music, and other media of students’ choice into performance assessments, and produce projects that illustrate understanding. For example, when students are taught to evaluate the authenticity and reliability of websites, they are using the social studies strategies of sourcing and contextualization. When students create or locate images, or incorporate music into a project, they are making connections and demonstrating their interpretation and synthesis of key ideas. When done effectively, technology can provide a critical connection between home and school literacy and change the often-held view by students that reading and writing are things you only “do” in school.

For examples of how to blend these practices, check out the following:

Lapp, Fisher, Frey and Gonzalez (2014). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(3) November 2014 doi: 10.1002/jaal.353 © 2014 International Reading Association (pp. 182–188).

Lapp, Thayre, Wolsey, Fisher, 2014. June 2014 doi:10.1598/e-ssentials.8056 © 2014 International Reading Association.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines.

Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?

How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy? – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf
How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy? – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf

Caught Reading: The Soul of an Octopus

Jenny Get Caught photoThree years ago on a family car trip I started reading a magazine article about octopuses out loud to my husband and daughters, who then were 14 and 10 years old. It held everyone’s attention for more than 20 miles. In the article Sy Montgomery, an award-winning science and nature writer, described meeting a sweet-tempered octopus named Athena at the New England Aquarium and learning about how amazingly intelligent these creatures are. My girls shrieked with laughter as Montgomery described octopuses escaping from laboratory tanks and evading college students who tried to catch them.

Now Montgomery has expanded her encounter with octopuses into a book that’s packed with amazing facts about these alien but engaging creatures. Did you know that octopuses can taste with their skin? That they’re deft and curious enough to take apart a Mr. Potato Head toy for fun? That they’re extremely social with people, and will hold onto a trusted person’s hands and arms for hours? Or that these shape-shifters can squeeze through tiny holes and transform their bodies, changing their skin’s color, pattern, and texture in less than a second?

The Soul of an Octopus is also full of behind-the-scenes stories about the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery spent many hours getting to know cephalopods (the class of marine mollusks that includes octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish). She recounts how keepers tackle challenges like luring reclusive electric eels out from hiding so visitors can see them, and describes the many practical roles that slime plays in the ocean. Her writing is deceptively clear and simple. Here’s how she explains that octopuses clearly have “theory of mind” – the ability to perceive what another creature is thinking:

“An octopus must convince many species of predators and prey that it is really something else. Look! I’m a blob of ink. No, I’m a coral. No, I’m a rock! The octopus must assess whether the other animal believes its ruse or not, and if not, try something different.”

May 2015 is Get Caught Reading Month. If you want to engage middle or high school science students, pick this book up, crack it open to any chapter, and start reading aloud.

Caught Reading: The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649

Lori_GetCRead15What must it be like to go to a place you have never seen, or even heard reliable reports of, and rebuild your whole world from scratch? That’s the challenge the first Puritan settlers in today’s Massachusetts faced in 1630. As you can imagine, the amount of trial and error in their project to build a Godly commonwealth in America was huge. Without the leadership of John Winthrop, I’d say it would have failed—a dozen times.

Winthrop’s Journal is his day-to-day account of events huge, large, medium, small, and tiny. No member of the company was too small or insignificant for him to notice and have concern for. In December 1630, the first winter, he noted not only that the frozen rivers made it impossible for the people of Charleston to sail across to attend church in Boston, but that “many of our sheep and goats were forced to be still abroad for want of houses”.

Winthrop was not above a little moralizing (during the tough days of that first winter, he claims that “those that fell into discontent” and homesickness for England died while others who did not survived), but overall the man who comes through to us in his Journal is one who put justice, peace, and love above all else, humbly accepting criticism when it came to him, and gently refusing high honors that would single him out from the rest of his company. His passionate devotion to the little commonwealth created in Massachusetts was strong enough to lead him to prepare the colony for war with England if King Charles I tried to impose a royally appointed governor (instead of an elected governor). Winthrop recounts how, at an emergency meeting in January 1635, he led the government and ministers in deciding “what we ought to do if a General Governor should be sent out of England… they all agreed that if a General Governor were sent we ought not to accept him but defend our lawful possessions (if we were able); otherwise to avoid or protract.” This is a striking declaration of independence that is never taught in high school American history classrooms.

Winthrop wrote in the third-person because he planned on publishing his Journal as an official history of the colony’s founding. It stands today as a wonderful glimpse into the life and energy of early Massachusetts, and as a tribute to its governor.

Learn more about Winthrop in the video and on his biography page for American Passages, unit 3, “Utopian Promise.”

How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 1 of 3 (Go to Part 2)

LIT 15

Reading and Writing in the Disciplines

When students enter middle and high school, their teachers expect them to have mastered the basic skills and strategies necessary for reading and comprehending texts across disciplines and genres. Is this always the reality? Do the skills and strategies they’ve developed serve them equally well when they read a scientific journal article, mathematical proof, historical primary source document, Shakespearean sonnet, and technical paper?

The answer is, no. While basic strategies such as making connections, asking questions, inferring, summarizing, and monitoring understanding are important when reading across subjects, they are not sufficient unless they can be adapted to each discipline. Even if students have mastered these basic skills, they may still struggle to understand, analyze, interpret, and evaluate important ideas in discipline-specific texts because they do not have the topical language and specialized reading practices that are used by scientists, mathematicians, historians, literary analysts, and technical specialists. To understand how each discipline produces and communicates key ideas, students need to know what is specifically involved when reading across these disciplines. So how exactly is this discipline literacy different from content-area literacy?

Content-area Literacy

Content-area literacy strategies are traditionally defined as the basic set of strategies students use when reading and responding to texts, with little differentiation being made across the content-area subjects. For example, students may learn techniques for determining important information, making inferences, asking questions, and summarizing. They would then apply these strategies when reading science, history, and math.

Discipline Literacy

Discipline literacy skills support students in moving beyond the general reading strategies as they develop specialized practices for making sense of discipline-based texts through reading, writing, and oral language. These practices include understanding how information is presented in each discipline: organization of important information; specialized vocabulary and syntactic nuances; use of text features; and interpretation and evaluation of evidence. The focus is on teaching students different ways of thinking as they encounter texts by developing reader identities within each discipline—to become expert readers and communicators in a discipline by reading, writing, and talking like a historian, a scientist, a mathematician, etc.

Essentially, “[t]he difference is that content literacy emphasizes techniques that a novice might use to make sense of a discipline text (such as how to study a history book for an examination) while discipline literacy emphasizes the unique tools that the experts in a discipline use to engage in the work of that discipline” (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2012, p. 8).

What Does This Mean for Instruction?

It has been an unspoken expectation that elementary teachers would help students have content-area literacy skills in place by middle school. In contrast, the expectation around discipline literacy is that it’s the job of discipline teachers to build these skills. But in reality, these are not isolated tasks.

The Common Core State Standards have placed an emphasis on the need for ELA and discipline teachers to share the responsibility for teaching and assessing mastery of the ELA Standards. While this call for shared responsibility is certainly a change from what has occurred in schools for decades, it’s important because it has now been documented that discipline experts approach the reading of texts differently (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008).

This does not mean that discipline teachers must also add “reading teacher” to the many hats they already wear. Rather, it means that they should model and share their own strategies for how to approach a text, how to determine and synthesize key ideas, how to critically evaluate the content, and how to engineer new possibilities. After all, who else is better able to support the reading of texts within a discipline than a discipline expert who knows the language and understands how students acquire text-based information?

They are, after all, the experts.

Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–59.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines.

Read part 2 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “Literacy in the 21st Century

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8bf5a75fad#sthash.YEQZS0jD.dpuf
Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/literacy-in-the-21st-century/#sthash.aM3Bw6Qw.dpuf
Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/literacy-in-the-21st-century/#sthash.aM3Bw6Qw.dpuf

Teach About the Human Condition With Poetry

TCWL_mazzino“Ferguson’s ugly, racist, emails released.” (CNN)

“OU shuts down fraternity after racist chant.” (CBS News)

“U.N. reveals ‘alarmingly high’ levels of violence against women.” (The New York Times)

These are news headlines from March 2015. There is still much to be done in improving the human condition. Maya Angelou stated, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” How can teachers help young people celebrate, value, and advocate for diversity? We need to go beyond the tolerance and appreciation rhetoric.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a great American poet. Her work challenged the status quo and improved the human condition of all people. She fought for equality and for humanity. In her body of work, we see the plights and triumphs of a marginalized people. Angelou, like many other poets, used words to tell her story of struggle.

In engaging in a “poet study” of poets like Maya Angelou, students will gain powerful insights into the human condition. The following are suggested steps to implement a “poet study” in your classroom:

  • Step One - Choose a poet to study. Other examples of poets who have examined the human condition include: Cathy Song, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Sandra Cisneros, Willie Perdomo, Rita Dove, native Garrett Hongo, Joy Harjo, etc.
  • Step Two – Have students learn about the historical, political, and social contexts of the poet’s life. (This can be completed in conjunction with a social studies lesson.)
  • Step Three - Have students read several poems by the poet. Ask students: What does the poem literally mean? (This may require students to carefully annotate each line via close reading.)
  • Step Four: – Have students consider the contexts when answering the following questions: What are some interpretations of the poem’s meanings? Why did the poet feel this way? What inspired the writing of the poem? What is the poet saying about the human condition and how do you know?
  • Step Five – Have students present their information via report, presentation, poster, etc.

Poems tend to be short texts. In this way, they are accessible and appealing to young readers. However, poems offer textual challenges in other ways. Poems are puzzles – their meanings are often not explicit. Students may need support via modeling and scaffolding.

The following resources will help classroom teachers and their students celebrate National Poetry Month and poetry any month of the year. These particular resources focus on marginalized voices and help further our understanding of the human condition:

  • High school teacher, Chris Mazzino uses poetry to teach students to explore the human condition. Specifically, the students examine what it feels like to be an outsider. In Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’Gaining Insight Through Poetry,” students reflect on why people are marked as “different.”
  • Students can compare how poets use images of a city to describe the human condition. In American Passages, students examine several poems in “Rhythms in Poetry:” Students consider how Eliot’s London, Sandburg’s Chicago, and Hughes’s Harlem all represent particular interpretations of the city and the modern condition.

Poetry is powerful. Robert Frost wrote, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

How have you used poetry to help further students’ understanding of the human condition?

The Value of Playground Poetry

EngagewLit_3_children“I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” This was one of my favorite comebacks as a child. In addition to reciting the poem, I stuck out my tongue and then ran far away. In a way, I added choreography.

Young children have used this poem across time as a means of combatting hurtful comments. I learned this poem on the playground via oral tradition. I heard someone else say it and someone heard me say it. And, so it goes.

Young children are natural poets. They enjoy playing with language. They enjoy rhyming and creating rhythms. They do this without any adult prompting or instructing.

Listen to our young students on the playground:

“Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack. All dressed in black black black….”EngageWLit_3_playground

“Ms. Suzie had a steamboat. The steamboat had a bell…”

“Roses are red. Violets are blue…”

“Down, down baby…”

“Woody and Dotty sitting in a tree…”

“Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around…”

“We need a pitcher, not a belly itcher…”

Young children use poetry in the spirit of play. They use it to set time for games like hopscotch, jump-rope, and hand-clapping. They use it to tease peers. They use it to cheer and/or taunt sports players.

Playground poetry offers a rich source of instructional material. I encourage teachers to capitalize on our students’ natural propensity toward poetry and to also sanction their forms of literacy. Teachers can guide students in examining the content, composition, and context of the playground poems. The following chart offers some suggested prompts to studying poetry in this way:

Content What does the poem literally mean? What are some interpretations of the poem’s meaning? What is the tone/mood of the poem?
Composition How is the poem presented? What is the structure of the poem? Why is the poem structured in this way?
Context What are the historical, social, or political contexts of the poem? In which contexts or situations would this poem be applied? How so and why?

 

Teacher Jonathan Holden in  “Starting Out: Getting Started with Poetry,” from Engaging With Literature Library, Grades 3-5, introduces his students to the pleasure of poetry. “His primary goal is to help them develop a love of reading and poetry in particular while developing the comprehension and critical-thinking skills they need to remain engaged readers.”

Following Mr. Holden’s example, by valuing playground poetry, teachers can maintain students’ love of poetry while also teaching them comprehension skills. Students are natural users of poetry and language. Teachers can help them be more analytical thinkers of poetry and language.

What are some ways that you have encouraged your students to play with language?

Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos

EssentialLens_MakedaBestWhen students see a photograph in a classroom, a textbook, or a school project, they often treat it just like a poem or short story: they try to clearly state what the photo “means.” They believe that a photo has a unique, incontestable meaning that is clear to the perceptive viewer. A photographer wouldn’t take a photo without having a message in mind, the reasoning goes, so that message must be clear in the photo s/he took, and if I can’t find it, there’s something wrong with me.

It’s hard to convince students that this is not true (for photos or for poems and short stories, but we’ll stick with photos here). Photos cross a line between art and reportage. They can have a clear message when they are reportage. When they are art, they are open to almost endless personal interpretation. When they are a mix of both, photos can challenge the most perceptive viewer. The student looking at the photo is not just a data analysis machine taking in information and processing it. The power of photos is in their immediacy: they are shots of real people in real situations that the viewer takes in through the lens of her or his own life experience. In short, the viewer makes the meaning. As historian of photography Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.” This is a big shift. It gives the student authority over the photo instead of the other way around.

To teach students to use their own experiences to analyze a photo, practice on the photo mentioned below using the Focus In activity from Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. (Watch Makeda Best demonstrate the Focus In activity in the “A Closer Look” video.):

Start with Dorothea Lange’s masterpiece “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936. Students may have seen it before. It is one of the most famous photos in the world. Too often, students move past their initial emotional reaction to this photo to try to discern its objective meaning. Following the steps in the Focus In Method for Analyzing Photographs, try to get your students back inside their own heads and hearts and experiences as they analyze “Migrant Mother.” Click on the link for a detailed description of each Focus In step. This step-by-step process can take the burden of finding meaning off students by encouraging them to make meaning.

Focus In Steps

Step 1: Observe

Step 2: Build on Your Observations

Step 3: Make Inferences

Step 4: Formulate Further Questions

Note: Here is a link to information about the photograph “Migrant Mother.”

 

How are you using photographs in your classes? Share in the comment section below.

Let Kids Read Whatever They Want!

“You can’t read that.”

“You shouldn’t read that.”

“Why would you read that?”

Leave kids alone. Let them read, for goodness sake!

Well-intentioned adults (teachers and parents) are doing a huge disservice to kids when we doubt their ability to read, when we censor what they read, and when we judge what they read. What happens? Kids stop reading.

We should celebrate that our kids are reading! Especially if they’re reading books (and not scores on video games). We shouldn’t be putting them down.

Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to challenge themselves with a complex text? It shows initiative. It shows their willingness to grapple. It shows their desire to read more. STOP telling them they can’t read certain books.

Children looking at picture books at school, Santa Clara, Utah. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326]

Children looking at picture books at school, Santa Clara, Utah. Credit: LOC, Prints & Photographs Division

Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to read books about controversial or gritty topics? It shows intellectual curiosity. It shows an interest in perspectives and worldviews different from their own. STOP telling them they shouldn’t read certain books.

Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to read all kinds of books? It shows they’re lovers of many types of writing and storylines instead of book snobs. Who are we to determine what are good and bad books for individual readers? Allow kids to form their own opinions. STOP judging their choices.

How many decisions do you think kids make in a day? We decide what they eat. We decide when they go to school. We decide what they read. We might give them options but ultimately, we decide what those options are. Kids make very few decisions – the ability to choose what they want to read should be one of them.

I take great pleasure in choosing books. One of my favorite things about finishing books is being able to choose the next one. I love being in book clubs because I eventually get to choose the book we read. (I pity the fool who tries to take that decision away from me!)

Instead of denying students the pleasure of choosing books, we should model our passion. Take, for instance, Ms. Bileni Teklu in Engaging With Literature, program 8, “Finding Common Ground.”

“…her students come to love reading because she is not dictating what they must read and when they must read it. These students have few choices in their personal lives, and so are especially appreciative of being able to choose what they read.”

In Classroom Lesson Plan: Independent Reading (also watch  the classroom video here), Ms. Teklu models her own decision-making process with students. She empowers them to make reading choices by sharing her personal experience.

I’m a literacy scholar. I’m a teacher educator. I’m a former classroom teacher. I know we need to teach district-sanctioned instructional materials. I know kids should be reading books at their independent level to build fluency. I know kids should be reading books at their instructional level during guided reading. I know kids should be reading complex texts during read-alouds. Effective literacy instruction requires us to make decisions about what kids read.

But, we should ensure kids have opportunities to choose their own books. And, we shouldn’t make them feel bad about their decisions. The consequences are too great.

Teaching with Twitter

Twitter_logo_blue copyToday it seems like everyone is on Twitter, following and/or being followed. There’s a hashtag for everything (#chestnuts, anyone?) and much of the traffic is devoted to fun and games and news. But away from the chatter, there is also a steady stream of educational Twitter use. It makes sense: Twitter is free, easy to use, and most high school students are already on it.

But as late as September 2014, Ben Stern of TeachBoost described teachers who are heavily engaged with Twitter as “outliers”. Why? Some school districts don’t allow in-school use of social media, of course, but that’s not the whole reason. Many teachers who have not yet used Twitter as part of their curriculum may be holding out for some concrete examples of using Twitter with their students. If that’s you, you’re in luck. We provide some great examples right here:

Hold Tweet Chats and Conversations

Have students who don’t like to speak up in class? Of course you do. Twitter allows students to comment and contribute to classroom discussions without raising their hand. Have students who can’t stop speaking up in class? Twitter’s 140-character format discourages long harangues and allows for more equal participation.

The joy of Twitter is that it expands the definition of student participation, both in class and well after the bell rings. Tweet a question like “Who’s most responsible for the tragic introduction of Jim Crow segregation law?” during your U.S. history class at 9:00 AM and you’ll be reading tweet after tweet on the subject well after 9:00 PM, and into the next day and the next—for as long as you keep the topic open. Discussions that light up Twitter go on to feed vibrant and informed classroom discussions.

Don’t forget to add custom made hashtags so that you and your students can easily follow the conversation. George Couros offers some tips to create classroom hashtags for Twitter on his blog.

If you prefer more structure to your Twitter chat, ask students to discuss a question for homework within a specific time frame (on Tuesday evening from 7-9 pm, for example) to give students a window for participation. Designate a hashtag for the assignment and tweet out the question with that hashtag at 7pm to get the students going.

Elicit Peer Feedback in Real Time

Ever notice how people at conferences tweet like mad during the presentations? (Are you one of them?) They’re giving instant feedback on speakers and ideas to their network and getting responses right away. By the time the speaker is finished, their thoughts have already gone around the world twice and been thoroughly hashed and re-hashed by their peers before the live discussion in the conference room even begins. Your students can do the same thing: have them tweet questions and comments during videos or student presentations so that when it’s time to talk, the conversation is already in motion. For example, if your science class watched “Biodiversity Decline”, program 9 of Annenberg Learner’s series The Habitable Planet, they could tweet questions and comments about the episode using the hashtag #HP9discuss.

Have Students Tweet in Character

Taking on a persona can be a tough sell in the classroom. Few students want to stand up and deliver a presentation in character (especially in costume) as a figure from the past or from literature. But ask them to tweet from the perspective of a Revolutionary soldier or Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games and it’s a different story. Tweeting allows students to create a longer-term project of living inside a character’s head from day to day, expressing concise thoughts from their point of view over a longer time period that immerses them in the character—especially when they have to answer questions as the character.

Involve the Community

Students can also reach beyond their peers to begin meaningful dialogues with people outside the classroom. You can help them come up with questions for local political candidates, performers, business owners, and more to inform in-school projects and help create socially engaged members of your city and state.

Follow News and Issues

Have students track specific issues in the local, national, or world news as they are being tweeted about (#climatechange for example) to get a sense of how those issues are being discussed at large.

Encourage Group Work

Twitter can get students cooperating as a group. For your next reading or video assignment, organize your class into groups and have each group post a summary. It’s hard work to summarize any resource in 140 characters! Tweeting content like this forces students to really single out the main point of a text. You can have students vote on the best summary, or choose and retweet it yourself.

As students do all these things on Twitter, you are able to track their activity and get a good sense of where to go in your next classroom session. Afraid of spending hours each day tracking hundreds of student tweets? You can spread out Twitter-based assignments. Even one a month will give your students the benefits of the format without keeping you chained to your web browser. If your students and school have internet access, try one of the strategies above to join the “outlier” teachers who are teaching with Twitter.

What’s your experience with using Twitter? Let us know by posting a comment. (Don’t forget to follow @AnnLearner on Twitter!)