I have been asked to include some Lesson Plans in this blog. I’m a little reluctant to do so because I always prefer to pick up on raw ideas, rather than complete lessons. Something that works for one class doesn’t always translate to another, so I’m not a great believer in lesson plans. However, I do think that it might be useful to give some descriptions of things that I have tried that have worked, and things that haven’t worked.
This is something I tried last week. I teach English to about 10 Grade 12 girls who attend the Roedean Academy in the afternoons. They come from two inner-city schools close by to Roedean. I see them once a week for an hour. They are all English Second Language students, and my approach has been not to try to duplicate what they are doing in their regular classes, but to use digital media and digital authoring to give them opportunities to expand their world view, and gain exposure to new ideas and people. It was the end of term, and the lesson was cut to 45 minutes to allow them to take out library books for the holidays. We had lost a lesson the week before, and were poised to embark on a major new project, but I didn’t want to launch it until the next term. I needed a filler.
We had been working on summarising skills, and I felt it was an excellent opportunity to round the term off with an exercise in summarising. I set the whole task up on Moodle, which they are now very comfortable using. I called it the Twitter Challenge, and created links to four articles or blogs on the Internet dealing with different topics, but all current. On the Moodle page I embedded a Twitter feed which would display all tweets using the #RoedeanAcademy hashtag. This would allow students to see their tweets immediately displayed on the Interactive Whiteboard, and on their Moodle page. The challenge was to read an article, and tweet a summary of the main idea of the article using the hashtag, and if possible a link to the article. The winner would be the student making the most correct tweets.
One student managed to make three tweets in the time, not the best summaries, but adequate. Most of the students managed at least one tweet, but one girl had forgotten her twitter password, and so I told her to simply do it in Word using word count, and email me the summary. The students appeared to enjoy the challenge. There was a great deal of frustration as they realised that Twitter would not allow them to tweet anything beyond 140 characters, and many students went way over the limit and had to work at pruning their response. For me this was a very valuable exercise because I felt that the application placed strict limits on the students, which had to be adhered to. Usually these limits are elastic, and students take advantage. This allowed me to walk around the room making suggestions such as, “Don’t those two words mean the same? Maybe you could drop one of them.” The students were faced with getting their tweets to move from minus characters, meaning they were over the 140 character limit towards the magic zero, which indicated they could send the tweet.
Another thing which I thought was successful was that it gave me an opportunity to teach the students about using hashtags and searches in Twitter. During the course of the lesson it became obvious that they were not aware of hashtags previously. Because you could not compete in the challenge without including a hashtag it was integrated into the lesson seamlessly. A weakness, though was the ephemeral nature of Twitter. As you can see from the screen-shot above, by the time I got to review the tweets they had made, they were no longer available. This was not vital, however, because the nature of the challenge is itself ephemeral. I was able to read the tweets as they were made and a winner was declared on the spot. To my mind, nothing really was gained by re-reading the tweets later. I should probably have archived them using as service such as Tweetake, for example.
Was the lesson engaging enough to overcome what is always a very painful exercise for students? No-one really enjoys summarising, and this was no exception. The students appeared to feel a great deal of frustration and angst over fitting what they wanted to say into 140 characters. Only one of the students really got the hang of it, but most did succeed in getting across the main idea of the article, and I know that a paper-based assignment would not have got that result. I feel that using twitter added to the task in significant ways, and I would recommend experimenting with using twitter to teach summary skills.