Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twitter and Critical Thinking: In-class Low-Stakes (III)

Justin Rogers-Cooper

Bloom's Taxonomy: Analyzing, Applying, Creating

Class Activity

Besides using Twitter to create context and main ideas sentences and paragraphs, Twitter can also be useful for critical thinking. In my two ENG 101 courses I have recently emphasized critical thinking strategies for students to employ in their essay paragraphs. One of the strategies I have stressed is the "keyword" strategy. I've defined keywords as critical ideas found in the text or created to describe an important passage or idea from the text. To be a keyword, students must define it as "an idea that describes more than one thing." Therefore, to use a keyword successfully students must define it and have two examples at the ready. In my Language and Human Rights class, a keyword that arose has been "sadism," which we've used to discuss lynching. In my Ethics of Food class, we've used the key word "environmentalism," in the context of factory farms (eating meat is the leading cause of climate change, and so active environmentalists must consider food choices as more important than recycling, transportation decisions, and consumption habits).

In a recent class, I began class by asking the students to find one keyword from the text (Eating Animals, Southern Horrors). On Twitter, they Tweeted their word, the page number, and a brief definition of the term. If they created the keyword, they had to put a small phrase in quotes "like this" to act as a marker for the passage in the text.

After they Tweeted, I had two students each share the keyword they Tweeted. As a class, we listened to them explain their keyword. They read their relevant passage out loud from the text. They gave more details about their choice. Then, I had students find another example from the text that "fit" their keyword. I then explained how this verified the keyword: it must explain more than one thing.

I then explained that critical thinking means linking different passages in the text together by connecting keywords. Looking at the board (where I took notes), I asked them to identify a connecting keyword. Students then volunteered their own keywords, or that of a peer. We then connected the new keyword to the one in question.

When the students got the hang of this, I told them to go into their Twitter feed. From the Twitter feed, I instructed them to select a keyword that another student Tweeted and to "star" it. I then explained that they should "reply" to the Tweet. In the reply box, they should write down the keyword they found, add their own keyword, and then write an explanation of the relationship between the two in the reply Tweet.

How It Went

Going back and forth from Twitter to class discussion to text to dry-erase board to Twitter worked very well. I went around as students composed their Tweets, and offered suggestions about using a different economy of language; many of the students are still trying to figure out how to say a lot in such a small Tweet. Students seemed to enjoy the chance to reply to each others' Tweets as a kind of intellectual social networking. It also made the students who feel behind on Twitter more connected to it as an easy form of media. It also helped students practice critical thinking strategies in a low-stakes environment, even as I reminded them that these ideas could work in their second essays and as fodder for the midterm next week.


Twitter has proven extremely useful as in-class, low-stakes form of media for building class ideas, archiving student thinking, and practicing writing strategies - including critical thinking. I've had more success using Twitter in-class than out-of-class to generate student connections so far, even though both classes seem to be more comfortable and Tweeting more frequently in the past two weeks.

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