It all began when I read a blog post on The Nerdy Book Club blog by young adult author James Preller in November 2013 on the power of story and how “stories are essential to our lives.” I was so moved by the blog post, I immediately bought his book Bystander, a fictional story about bullying at one middle school in Long Island. As a middle school teacher, this topic is pertinent to my teaching and my quest to promote empathy within school culture. As I devoured the book, I realized that I wanted all my students to read Bystander and the power of its story as it relates to our school and culture where bullying is a daily occurrence. Hence, I assigned Bystander as a required reading for my eighth grade English students for their outside reading requirement. Along with reading the book, students were required to participate in four Twitter book chats after school hours to address the complex characters and issues raised in the book.
During the Twitter book discussions students shared their own stories, made connections, and critically addressed the issue of bullying in our school and society at large. I was impressed by their honesty and keen awareness. Everyone had a voice on Twitter and no one was able to hide during the discussions. Students weren’t just answering the questions that I posed during the Twitter book chat but were also talking with each other in an online environment, supporting and responding to each other’s ideas. I noticed that students who might not talk to each other in class, face to face, were responding to each other online and offering constructive discussions piggy-backing on each other’s ideas. Positive communication was modeled throughout the Twitter discussions.
Students admitted that bullying is a huge problem in many schools across across the United States, and our own school is not immune. Social media sometimes becomes a means in which bullying takes place, but by facilitating the Twitter chats I wanted to promote Twitter as a social media tool in a responsible and educational manner. Parents signed consent forms for their children to participate in the book chats. My students were excited about the Twitter book discussions and have asked for more.
Twitter is one digital media tool that can be used effectively for discussing stories and the powerful impact they have on our lives. Twitter also allows space for students to critically discuss topics that are relevant to their lives and share stories, images, pictures, and other links to meaningful texts that address the same topics. Twitter is a tool to dissect stories and respond in a pedagogical setting. Through my experiences using Twitter in the classroom, I have been able to capture the “richness” of conversations and the “complexity of experiences” when sharing stories.
The next #RMSBystander Twitter Book chat will be Monday January 20, 2014 at 8:15 PM EST. All are welcome to join.