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We all know that “tweeting” is a way of life for many people today.  Personally, I never wanted any parts of Twitter….until I started this blog.  I opened my Twitter account as a way to spread the word about this website as a resource for teachers.  But then I discovered the power of Twitter for educators.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Twitter is like going to a grad class every time I log on!  My professional learning network continually grows, I learn so many new ideas and strategies, and I have discovered a whole new language.  Hashtags, chats, @, and more…the list just keeps growing for why I’m loving this social network tool.

This got me to thinking: what if I used this concept in my classroom?  One of the biggest challenges for me on Twitter has been getting used to the 140 character limit.  If you’ve read this blog more than once, you’ll know that I sometimes struggle with being concise.  :)  But Twitter forces you to choose your words carefully and with wisdom to get your point across.  Now, I’m not advocating that we give up the art of writing in place of Twitter-izing.  However, what I do suggest is using these 140 characters as a way to encourage thoughtful writing, creative communication and as a way to assist our ELL learners in using the English Language.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my school district has blocked Twitter from our computers.  I understand the reasoning behind it and I’m all for school safety and work focus.  Yet, this can be such a meaningful tool for learning and as a relevant way to connect with our students.  So, I’ve had to be a bit creative in this.  Thus, Tweeting on the Chalkboard was born!

Rather than using the traditional Twitter format, we use the chalkboard as the forum for our written communication.  Here’s what it looks like:

1.) Students listen to a piece of music that I’ve selected – usually relating to another subject area.  Just this week, we did this with Gustav Holt’s The Planets, the topic of which they’ve studied this quarter in science.

2.) Students are then allowed to write a message on the board that communicates something that they found interesting about the piece.  They can use the hashtags of #wholeclass #science #dynamics or more that they choose.

3.) Students can then respond to the written sentences and provide their reflections.  They can either direct it back to the original author using the @ signs (@Mrs.Riley) or to the whole group.

All sentences must fit within one line on the board.  Thus, we avoid the sticky part of counting your characters as this would take some of my students forever.  Because I limit it to one line, students must choose their words carefully and purposefully.  We spend 5-10 minutes on this activity as a way to deepen their thinking on the subject or to extend it into our next unit.  The students love the activity because it’s something they can relate back to their “real life” and it feels fun.  Plus, our ELL students don’t feel the pressure of having to keep up with the conversation in real-time.  They can read the sentences and take their time crafting their responses.

Some people would criticize this method as taking away from enriching conversations that could take place with discussion.  First, I don’t just use this method – it’s one strategy in my bag of tricks.  But it’s nice to mix things up once in a while.  Second, sometimes we don’t allow our students to be silent enough.  Silence breeds contemplation – if we can capture that and foster it into a different type of engagement, that is yet another skill that we are teaching.  By not speaking but rather reading and writing a conversation back and forth, we are allowing our students “think time”, as well as encouraging listening skills by filtering the information into meaning for themselves.

Personally, I would love to be able to do this with computers.  If I had a mobile computer lab or a computer at every desk with a smartboard/whiteboard, that would be ideal.  But since I don’t, creativity must take hold.  I’m sure that you have some creative ways that you engage your students – let’s share our ideas together!  And if you’d be so kind, let me know what you think about this strategy and how else I might be able to modify it.  Would love to get your opinion too.  Or, you could just tweet me about it! @susanrileyphoto