Twitteracy: Using Twitter to promote academic literacy

Jan 06, 2014 by Mary A. Durlak
Twitteracy: using Twitter to promote academic literacy
Pictured: Participants Madison Ackerman (graduate student); Heidie Caraway (teacher), Buffalo high school students, and Jevon Hunter

By using Twitter—the social network whose users communicate in "tweets" no more than 140 characters long—a Buffalo teacher engaged a group of high school students in a spirited discussion of a novel.

Heidie Caraway, '08, '11, assigned The Giver by Lois Lowry to students in her ninth and tenth grade English language arts classes at Health Science Charter School. They read the book dutifully, but Caraway wanted them to achieve a deeper level of engagement. She discussed her goals with Jevon Hunter, assistant professor of elementary education and reading at Buffalo State, under whom she had studied.

Hunter's ideas about literacy reflect his belief that students are fluent in many literacies. "Literacy is more than just reading and writing," he said. "It includes the attitude and beliefs and assumptions that shape the spoken and written word to the audience you're addressing. Most students are fluent in multiple literacies. They talk to their friends one way, and to their parents and grandparents in another way."

Academic fluency is another kind of literacy. "I don't privilege it above other modes of discourse," Hunter said. However, he is interested in helping students—especially urban youth— to become fluent in academic literacy so that they can succeed in and go on to college.

Caraway reviews her teaching daily to see what worked and what didn't, and she brings an ethnographer's eye to her classroom. "I noticed that my students use Twitter all the time," she said. As she and Hunter discussed ways to heighten her students' interest in discussing literature, they came up with the idea of using Twitter to discuss The Giver. Several of Hunter's graduate students volunteered to serve as facilitators in the discussion.

The participated by using self-created Twitter names that kept them anonymous to each other. "Students who were quiet in class spoke up on Twitter," said Caraway. Her students discussed their ideas, with the graduate students bringing their knowledge and skills to the conversation. Their input helped the younger students deepen their ability to sustain conversations about literature.

"We noticed that my students started to discuss the book outside of class and on the weekends," said Caraway. She spotlighted "Tweets of the Day," and her students responded with enthusiasm as they recognized that their own ideas had enough value to become teaching tools. Taking part in a discussion with graduate students—students who already had earned a bachelor's degree—was also validating.

The experiment turned out to be extraordinarily successful, and a team presented the project at the annual conference held by the National Council for Teachers of English in Boston in November. The team included several students from Health Science Charter School, graduate student Madison Ackerman from Buffalo State, Caraway, and Hunter.

"The students' presentation generated a lot of interest," said Hunter. "We gave English teachers some ideas about how to use students' existing skills to strengthen their literacy skills. But most important, we gave these high school an experience that helps them attain higher academic achievement."

Explore further: English language variation in the classroom

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

English language variation in the classroom

Dec 09, 2013

Anne H. Charity Hudley has spent 11 years bringing her message about linguistic and cultural diversity to teachers involved in kindergarten through 12th grade. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and the ...

Urban schools improving faster than rest of US

Dec 18, 2013

Federal testing data shows that public school students in the nation's largest cities are improving their performance in reading and math faster than their counterparts in suburban and rural schools.

Recommended for you

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

5 hours ago

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Atom probe assisted dating of oldest piece of earth

(Phys.org) —It's a scientific axiom: big claims require extra-solid evidence. So there were skeptics in 2001 when University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscience professor John Valley dated an ancient crystal ...