Category Archives: twitteracy

3 Obvious Ways Twitter Promotes Literacy

What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

It was an interesting day for me.  I spoke in the same district that I did my first keynote in by myself, and it was an amazing experience to reconnect and think about my journey over the last few years.  The person that asked me to speak over six years ago was still there, and we reminisced about our experiences over this time.

One of the conversations was going back to the idea of Twitter and does it actually promote literacy.  Thinking about, jumping onto Twitter years ago has led to many amazing opportunities for me, but I also think that it has led to tremendous growth in my own learning over time.  Since I first started connecting with others through the medium, I have written over 88,000 tweets, written over 1,100 blog posts, and one book.  I am a firm believer that if you want to become better at writing, the best way to do it is to write more.

Without connecting on Twitter, I truly believe that I would not have written in the other mediums.  I have started blogs before, but never made it past a few posts.  As for a book?  I doubt that was something I would have ever done without Twitter.  I am not the only one; so many educators that have connected through the medium have written and published their own books.  I have seen people criticize that so many educators are writing books now, and I think, “Wow! So many educators are writing books now!”  Educators sharing their wisdom with different audiences all over the world is a pretty powerful thing.

Yet how does Twitter actually promote literacy?  As I thought about it, here are three obvious ways that really stand out to me.

  1. You read more. Many educators start off with the idea that they are “lurkers” on Twitter.  They have access to learning and ideas that they might not get within their own schools or usual circles.  I am a big believer in “created serendipity“; the more connected you are, the more ideas seem to find you, not the other way around.  The amount of blog posts and articles that I have read in the last few years is seemingly more than I ever read in my time as a student.  It should be also noted that none of these articles were pushed upon me but it was an opportunity to read things that I was interested in, not articles that were pushed upon me by someone else.
  2. You write more. I googled, “How many characters are in your average book?”, and according to this site, it is approximately 500,000.  So let’s say that the average tweet has 100 characters, well then 5000 tweets would equate to the length of a book.  Now writing 500,000 characters of tweets versus writing in a book are not equally weighted, but simply put, you are writing more.  Getting on Twitter is not about writing a book though, but how often do students write this much on their own?

    Clive Thompson has an interesting take on this:

    “The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

    It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

    But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.”

    Which leads us into the next point…

  3. You can find your voice.  If you go onto Twitter, there are many educators that are passionate about so many different things, both in and out of the realm of education.  If literacy is about how we communicate our ideas, we have to understand how we connect and share, and how an audience will interpret we are sharing.  This is crucial as it is not only about the message, but how it is delivered.  As I am a big believer in moving from engagement to empowerment, someone that feels empowered to share will most likely tend to share more.

I have long held the belief that we are slowly becoming illiterate if we do not keep up with these modern mediums, but my focus is not about how to keep up, but how to embrace the opportunities these mediums provide us.  If there is something that could get our students not only reading more, but writing more as well, wouldn’t we be crazy not to embrace it?


How do you see “literacy”?

I have showed this awesome video from Karen Mensing’s class last year, with her students sharing their own “Twitter Tutorial”. Check it out below:

If you think that this might be a little bit above your ability, it is fine since they have a tutorial for beginners as well :)

Now some people would say, “Why would you need to teach young elementary students how to use Twitter?”

But do you see this as simply “Twitter”, or do you see this as teaching literacy?  I see it as part of the latter.

In a post that I wrote in 2015,  this is what I had found on the concept of “literacy”:

So what is literacy? The “traditional definition” is the ability to read and write, but you will see that definition is a little different according to some sources.  The definition of literacy has changed over time, and there are many different perspectives on the topic.  In this article on the “Definitions of Literacy”, the author shares some differing perspectives that go beyond simply “reading and writing:

“…we acknowledge that the word literacy itself has come to mean competence, knowledge and skills (Dubin). Take, for example, common expressions such as ‘computer literacy,’ “civic literacy,’ ‘health literacy,’ and a score of other usages in which literacy stands for know-how and awareness of the first word in the expression.” Dubin and Kuhlman (1992)

Or this thinking from Langer in 1991:

“It is the culturally appropriate way of thinking, not the act of reading or writing, that is most important in the development of literacy. Literacy thinking manifests itself in different ways in oral and written language in different societies, and educators need to understand these ways of thinking if they are to build bridges and facilitate transitions among ways of thinking.”

(Read the entire article…there is lot to think about in what is shared on the “definitions” of literacy.)

If you think literacy is only about “reading and writing”, then Twitter might seem insignificant.  But if we see Twitter, and the ability to not only read and write, but to communicate and leverage this medium as literacy, it might seem more important.  What I am not saying is that you need to go teach Twitter to your students right now.  Not at all. What I am saying is that if you simply dismiss things as creating with different types of media, or using social media to connect with others as “tech” or “insignificant”, you might be holding your students back in sharing their wisdom from the world with a simpler view of what literacy can truly be.