I went through an Austen phase in ninth grade. It involved weekly trips to the library, an early hope that Mr. Darcy could be real, and a change in my vocabulary. I found myself saying words like “propriety” and “ardently” and forming nonsense sentences like, “Of course that would be disagreeable to you as I ought to have thought of myself.” It seemed that immersing myself in the land of Austen changed the way I spoke. I still believe that by reading great amounts of a specific type of writing you begin to mimic that language—or can at least imitate it better.
Usually in my composition classes, I have students place their desks in a circle and write their thesis statements at the top of a piece of paper. The students then pass the paper around and comment on how to make the statement stronger, ways to clarify and complicate the statement, and potential veins of research the student could explore. I would join in the circle and add my own comments. This was a quick, low-stakes exercise for the students who then had 20 other people examining and critiquing their writing.
My idea was that this exercise could translate to Twitter because all students could still present their statements and comment, just now all in the same place. I hoped that students would engage in more of a conversation than simple statements on a piece of paper. I also hoped students would be able to respond to the statements more critically because they would have time to engage with a few statements rather than given 30 seconds with every statement. Lastly, I wanted students to see how their instructor responded to statements in the hope that they would recognize what is valued in a strong statement. Perhaps, I thought, the more students read of my responses and critiques, the more familiar the students would be with the language required to critically respond to their peers. Not only that, but students who may not be strong writers might view the stronger writers’ statements and recognize what qualities make their writing strong.
The ability to respond to all students in this fashion was much easier than passing around a sheet of paper. It was faster to type my responses, and I found that I was able to respond to every student in the time that they responded to a few students.
As I hoped, the stronger student writers were able to respond to the weaker student writers. This way the students that had the most room for improvement received the most feedback.
While I did not have difficulties responding to students in 140 characters, some students had difficulties tweeting their theses in one tweet. This was obviously nothing that should be critiqued—well-written and complex statements very well would take up more than one tweet—it made it difficult for students to keep their statements next to each other in the feed because so many students were tweeting at once. This general chaos was nothing new to the class, but it did make it difficult to stay organized. The plus was that students could view their mentions and see all the responses from other students, so they didn’t need to pay attention to reading their responses while they were commenting.
To be honest, while I preferred this method of responding to students’ statements, I think it would be less chaotic for the students to respond to each other on paper.
“This would only be productive if the feedback we got enabled us to improve our ideas, and for that to be possible people would have to engage the statements of others. Of the other 22 students in the class only 3 commented on my thesis. Two of them said it was wordy, but not how to shorten it, and the third merely praised my statement. This didn’t really offer me a new perspective on my idea.”
– Zeke Hardman
“I think that my ability to write and recognize a thesis is much stronger after using twitter to read and revise our classmate’s theses. I was surprised at how much it helped to see how other people were wording their thesis and how it differed from my own. ”
– Karli Sinicropi
“I saw a lot of positive reinforcement of good theses [sic] statements, constructive criticism, and critical thinking by most everyone who participated. I also noticed good, well-thought questions being asked that really made people think about their stances and how solid or not solid their point of view was. Also, I observed people offering tips on how to improve on other people’s statements and ways to improve their writing in the future. So the thing that really stood out to me was just people working together, molding and shaping each other’s works into better-formulated literature.”
– Chris Kozak
The main problem with this activity was that it was not enough of an immersion into the language of thesis statements and writing critique for students to pick up on the language or values. Basically, if students did not know what to value in thesis statements, they could not help other students. Students could see other students’ writing, but it seems the only aspects of the statements they reflected were borrowing each other’s ideas.
Several students mentioned discomfort in tweeting their writing for the rest of the class to see. While there usually is discomfort during peer review, it is easy to see how this discomfort is amplified when displaying writing to 20 other students rather than just a partner. In order to prepare students for peer review, the class could focus on a sample thesis displayed on the LCD. The teacher and students could verbally workshop the thesis statement and then could practice tweeting about it. Students would then revise their own thesis based on what they learned from the sample thesis before sharing on Twitter.
Doing this activity online still allows the type of conversation required when workshopping writing, but it does make it harder for students and the instructor to clarify what they mean. When under length constraints, text and typing takes longer to explain than verbally explaining.
There are two ways to improve workshopping thesis statements on Twitter. In order for the activity to be productive, all students should first tweet their statements. After every student has tweeted their thesis, they should then begin to respond. This way the chaos of tweets and responses will be lessened. When students want to see their feedback they can simply look at their mention feed. Second, students should also be assigned a partner so that everyone will receive feedback from at least one other student. Realistically, however, the 140-character limit of Twitter makes thesis writing difficult and limits the length of a response.