Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tweeting Your Way to Better Teaching

     Had it not been for the patient persistence of a dear friend/Twitter devotee, I probably would have missed out on what has become one of my most valuable teaching resources.  Today, I'd like to pay that forward.

     Be forewarned that your initial trek into Twitter may be utterly OVERWHELMING.  Think of the first time you stepped into the Main Street Confectionery at Disney's Magic Kingdom - (or, similarly, the M&Ms store in Las Vegas).  I was in fifth grade when that happened, and almost four decades later, I can still recall the colors, the variety, the mind-boggling muchness of the experience.

     Twitter is the digital equivalent.  As with those candy stores, my reaction was immediate, paralyzing greed.  I just didn't know where to start.  Once the drooling subsided, though, Step One became obvious:  Set up a Twitter profile.  And don't make the mistake I made!  Your address -- (the words after the @) -- should be your name or your organization, and not some whimsical locale from a treasured childhood story.  Had my Twitter fiend, er, friend not pointed that out, Ferdinand the Bull most likely would have been the sole follower of paulajmchale@underthecorktree.  You want to be easy to find.

Paula and Ferdinand, still waiting for her first retweet
     Once you have an address, it's time to start populating your digital community with people who can teach you the stuff you want to know.  As a sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, I immediately sought out and "followed" Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, at @donalynbooks, as well as Teri Lesesne, undisputed goddess of YA literature, @ProfessorNana.  (Undisputed goddesses are allowed whimsical addresses as their ardent followers will track them to the very gates of Valhalla -- or Sam Houston State University.)  On the Twitter pages of these educational leaders, not only will you find links to their blog sites, you will notice that many of their "followers" are also people you've long admired professionally.  (They, in turn, most likely "follow" people you're about to admire professionally.)  Don't be shy.  "Following" any one of them is as easy as the click of a "+follow" button.

      Prepare to be stunned by the online presence of authors you've loved since forever who, in turn, tout the work of authors they respect and admire:  @JonathanMaberry, @sarahdessen@Cynthia_Lord -- to name a few.  You'll make valuable new contacts like @MrSchuReads, a wellspring of knowledge about great books for kids.  Thanks to their generously shared wisdom, I'll be starting the 2014-15 school year with a classroom library collection on par with that of my school.

    Just one month into summer break, the American Library Association @ALALibrary has already introduced me to three great websites to use with my students next year:  BiblioNasium, Socrative, and Tagxedo. @RWTnow has provided me with three fully researched lesson plans.  Possibly my most exciting online discovery began with the purchase of Kylene Beers' and Robert Probst's Notice & Note:  Strategies for Close Reading, a book I first learned about on Twitter (of course).

When I tweeted my thanks to Dr. Beers @KyleneBeers, she suggested I check out the Notice & Note Book Club on Facebook where I immediately found myself surrounded by teachers who love the book as much as I do, and who had already assembled an amazing collection of Google Docs and videos to support one's use of the ideas in N&N.  It would've taken me months of hard work to amass that wealth of knowledge on my own.

     With a handful of tweets, you can begin your own professional journey into a universe of people who share your obsession -- and are eager to learn and teach about it, too.  Just make sure you've got plenty of time.  You'll need it.

Don't miss The Sustained Reader's take on Using Book Trailers in Your Classroom