Tweet, Tweet: A Culture of Literacy by Sarah Mulhern Gross
My love of social media is well-known at school. The upperclassmen tell the freshman about my love affair with Twitter and they keep track of the number of followers I have. I’m always livetweeting events in class (ok, and pop culture after school….) and encouraging my students to have a positive digital footprint. But this year I’ve brought Twitter into my classroom in another attempt to create a culture of literacy at my school.
For the past few years I’ve had a class Facebook page where I would post #fridayreads, book trailers, and other literacy-related items that we didn’t have time to talk about in class. But this year something happened: none of my freshman liked the page. A little digging and I learned that most of my freshmen were not on Facebook at all! When I asked them if it was because of parental restrictions they just laughed at me. “Mrs. Gross, Facebook is for old people!”
Friends, I am officially old. This hit me pretty hard and I think I am still recovering…..
But no matter! My mantra is always “meet them where they are”, so I asked the students about Twitter. It turned out most of them use Twitter on a daily basis and I’m already there, so why not bring Twitter into our reading lives? Today my students are chatting about books via our school hashtag, tweeting authors in class, and sharing their reading lives with each other and the wider world. So how can you use Twitter to create a culture of literacy in your classroom?
1. Start with a hashtag
I love my students but I do not want to follow them on Twitter. I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual! But a hashtag allows to share tweets without mutual following (provided the users are public. If a student is restricted to private on Twitter they don’t participate in hashtags outside those who follow them). This means students, teachers, and admin can all communicate with each other.
Our hashtag is #hthsbks, which I chose based on our school name, reduced character count, and the fact that it wasn’t already used by someone else. I love tweeting photos of books I am bringing to school and letting students respond and reserve those books. I love sharing what I am reading with my students and former students. But I really love the conversations that pop up organically on Twitter, prompted by the hashtag. Below is a sample of one of those conversations, which took place between freshman and sophomore students.
2. A book-centric Twitter account
This was the next logical step. I realized I was overwhelming my own timeline with #hthsbks tweets, so I needed to set up a second account. That account would be strictly for book tweets related to school and parents, colleagues, administrators,and students could follow the account without having to follow my PLN tweets. Let’s face it, I’m an active Tweeter! I didn’t want to drown out one audience in favor of another. Thus @hthsbks was born!
I post #fridayreads, book trailers, quotes from authors, deals from publishers, and anything else literacy-related I can find. Just this weekend I posted a link that John Green shared, where NPR pointed out that Beyonce sampled Chimamanda Adichie’s amazing TEDtalk on feminism on her new album. We watch Adichie’s amazing “Danger of a Single Story” speech later this year and my upperclassmen know how much I love it. It’s amazing that I can share this intersection of literature and pop culture instantly thanks to Twitter!
Our Twitter account is followed by many members of the school community and my principal even retweets some of our tweets on the school’s official Twitter account. It’s really helping build a culture of literacy in and out of school!
3. Instagram, Instagram, Instagram!
Lots of publishers are on Instagram and they are always posting book giveaways, deals, and much more. It’s simple to connect Instagram to a Twitter account, so I can push info from one platform to the other. And Instagram is huge with my kids; if they aren’t on Twitter they are definitely on Instagram!
Feel free to follow us!
4. Interact with authors
Twitter is full of amazing authors and many of them love interacting with readers. My students are always shocked when an author tweets them back or responds to a conversation about their books. There is no better way to hook a reader than to prove to them that authors are human beings, too. So far we have chatted with Kendare Blake, April Henry, and Rainbow Rowell!
5. Student experts
Over the past few weeks we’ve had a few other teachers pop into the hashtag. One of my favorite interactions was with a middle school teacher from Virginia who needed suggestions from a students. I retweeted the tweet and two of my students saw her tweet to the hashtag and provided some suggestions. They were so excited to be the experts and I couldn’t be happier, either!
Twitter allows students to become experts and interact as experts. They can share their knowledge about books and reading with others and nothing is cooler than that!
Twitter has transformed my classroom yet again, and this time it’s encouraging more students to read. I love that I can reach out on days we don’t have class and still talk books with my students. I love that I can share news and blog posts with students without taking time out of class sometimes. I love that students can discuss books and I can peek in via our hashtag, and that I can introduce authors to those chats with a few clicks. And I really love that so many authors willingly take a few minutes to talk to my students, answering questions and thanking them for reading.
Our students have a lot of devices, apps, and people competing for their attention. A lot of times reading isn’t their first priority. But tweeting about reading creates a community outside of our classroom that students can rely on for books and book talks. We can harness the distraction and turn it into productive procrastination! I know that’s what Twitter often does for me; it provides a means to procrastinate while still learning from those who are more knowledgeable than me. It’s even better if it can do the same for my students! We’ve created our own school version of the Nerdy Book Club!
Sarah Mulhern Gross is a National Board Certified English teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two Australian Shepherds, and cat. She was born a member of the Nerdy Book Club. She was “that girl” at her younger siblings’ sporting events with her head in a book. You know, the antisocial one. :) She has been teaching Freshman World Literature and English IV at a STEM high school in NJ since 2010. She previously taught sixth grade Language Arts in New Jersey. Sarah blogs at www.thereadingzone.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thereadingzone.