This uncharacteristic turn of events came to me last week as I was standing in the doorway of my classroom thinking about my plan for an article I had on globalization. I really wanted my students to get a clear handle on globalization and the complex history that has led us to the new era of interconnectedness. I knew I needed a good strategy for students to get the basic ideas from this text. It is a short text but it includes, among other things: historical information, a strong call to action, complex vocabulary, and powerful implications. I was nervous that the students might not be able to fully access the complexities with just a quick read.
With this text I have used a few different paraphrasing activities before but was never really satisfied with my students ability to grasp the overall concept. I looked up at the students passing by my door and saw them all on their phones. They were looking at their Instagram, Facebook, Vine and Twitter accounts and I suddenly got it. I would have them tweet the text. I have done this activity in trainings I have attended and usually we were asked to compose a mock tweet related to the text but, not something that actually posted to Twitter. We used sticky notes and were asked to paraphrase something in 140 characters or less. I thought this might work really well with students so I went back to my room and set out my sticky notes for the next day.
When the students came in on Wednesday morning I handed out the six paragraph article I was using for globalization. I told them that the first thing they needed to do was just to read the article to themselves and to circle the most important ideas and to put question marks next to anything that they might need to clarify later.
After the first read I assigned each student a number 1 through 6. Then I walked by and gave each student a sticky note. I told them to take the sticky note and to tweet the text.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” they said. “On the sticky note?” “Like in 140 characters?” “Why do we have to write it on the note? Can’t we actually tweet it?”
I had to stop and think for a second. I have never thought about actually having them tweet it in real life, out in real cyberspace. Of course they could write something weird, but it was on their account. It wouldn’t be anonymous so I felt they would have some interest in taking it seriously, so I decided to let them. I put my handle up on the board and let them go for it.
They stopped me again and said we needed a hashtag if we were going to do this for real, so we made one, #glblztn. Then they began. I asked them to summarize the main point of their paragraph in 140 characters or less and to include my handle @lindseylee253.
My students started to tweet things like; “Information tech advances have increased globalization profits and has impacted countries positively for thousands of years @Lindseylee253.”
Next I had each students partner up. A 1 with a 2, a 3 with a 4, and a 5 with a 6. The new job was to combine their two tweets into another tweet and they came up with things like this: “Technology has transformed economic life, however it is deeply controversial. #GLBLZTN @Lindseylee253.” Lastly I put them in a new group in which three partnerships joined into a team of six to combine their three tweets together. Here was my favorite result, “@Lindseylee253 Policy and tech dvlpmnts have <×border trade, invstmt,+ mgratn = new phase of ecnmic dvlpmnt. #Glblztn.” (If that one needs some deciphering, it would read, “Policy and technological developments have increased cross border trade, investments and migration. This equals a phase of new economic development.” Yep, they managed to convey that complex idea and understanding in 140 characters.)
My students were doing a great job at getting to the complicated essence of the topic of globalization. This tweet , “Technology has transformed economic life, however it is deeply controversial. #GLBLZTN @Lindseylee253,” helped me see it and because we were all tweeting so did everyone else. When I first planned this lesson my goal was for the students to develop a solid summary of the article. What I ended up with was something much more rich than that. I had started a conversation about globalization. In first period students started to re-tweet and edit each other’s tweets, or to favorite ones their classmates wrote that they thought were well done. This level of collaboration, deep thinking, and revising simply isn’t possible with sticky notes. When second period came around,students walking in the door were asking, “Hey, what were you guys doing first period, I read my friends’ tweets.” They were excited to see if they could make a better tweet and they started tagging each other and people who had already left class.
Next my students started noticing that people they didn’t know were favoriting their tweets. It was other teacher friends and educators that follow me on twitter. They started bragging to each other that the other nerdy teachers liked their tweets better so now they were really trying to think hard about how to be concise and sound smart. I had inadvertently created an authentic audience.
The level of engagement continued to build all day. The students from all four of my classes were tweeting about globalization. And it didn’t stop at the end of the school day!. The last tweet came in on Sunday afternoon. We did this activity on a Friday and they continued to tweet about the topic for two more days. I was in complete shock. I am beginning to think about how to harness this technology in other ways. I realized that by doing this I was taking the conversation and putting it out where they were used to having them.
This lesson has really sparked an interest for me in harnessing social media and technology in my classroom. I would very much like to know what activities, strategies or resources you have found to integrate technology into, and out of, the classroom.