“So here are some questions that keep me up at night: How are we to make our students literate if we ourselves are not? If we cling to age old definitions and ignore the wisdom of one of the oldest professional education organizations we have in this country, how do we provide my kids with the experiences they need to fully understand what it means to be a self-directed, participatory learner in this century? How do we make sure that every child and every teacher has access to these tools and connections? And what do we do when the reform conversations are being led by a majority of folks who have no context for the changes that are happening every day in these connected spaces, folks that by NCTE’s definition, may have some literacy issues themselves?” ~ Will Richardson

As literacy is so fundamental to opportunities of learning, I have been thinking about Twitter and the use of it in our schools.  If you look at this video, you will see that the use of Twitter is going up exponentially and things such as hashtags are making their way into things outside of Twitter.  For example, have you ever read a text message that has the term “#fail” in it?  Why the pound sign?

Just looking at a random tweet from Patrick Larkin, I wonder if most educators are able to decipher what the message is saying or even where to go to find out what the “pound sign thingies” mean?  Take a look:

During this time in our world, if you can’t read this, are you missing out on something important?  It is not just the words, but the links and hashtags that are in the message as well.  I have done several workshops with educators and having something up like Tweetdeck looks like it is right out of the Matrix movies.  I know it did to me when I first started using it.  That being said, I am always appreciative when others are willing to take the time, struggle, and learn to get better at using this medium.  It is so important that we model our learning continuously as educators for the sake of our students.

“The new literacy, beyond text and image,  is one of information navigation. The real literacy of tomorrow entails the ability to be your own personal reference librarian—to know how to navigate through confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable doing so. “Navigation” may well be the main form of literacy for the 21st century.” ~ John Seely Brown

I have written about the texting improving literacy before, but I was again reminded of how much more our students read now as opposed to the time I was a kid when I read this article discussing a recent talk by Margaret Atwood:

Thanks to the rise of the internet and of social media, “I would say that reading, as such, has increased. And reading and writing skills have probably increased because what all this texting and so forth replaced was the telephone conversation,” she continued. “People have to actually be able to read and write to use the internet, so it’s a great literacy driver if kids are given the tools and the incentive to learn the skills that allow them to access it.”

Often you will hear things on how Twitter is “eroding society”, yet there can often be much more in a tweet then simply 140 characters.  Atwood goes on to talk about how people are using Twitter to express themselves in similar ways, further their learning through the links that are often provided, and are sometimes using the medium to do different things:

“A lot of people on Twitter are dedicated readers. Twitter is like all of the other short forms that preceded it. It’s like the telegram. It’s like the smoke signal. It’s like writing on the washroom wall. It’s like carving your name on a tree. It’s a very short form and we use that very short form for very succinct purposes. There is a guy out there who is writing 140-character short stories — I just followed him today…but that’s the exception. It’s sort of like haikus [and] prose,” Atwood said.

Journalists are quickly learning that a Twitter account can be the best way to connect with an audience and share information as it happens.  It is making the news more interactive and you will often see on newscasts the “Twitter handle” highlighted when a person is speaking.  Humans yearn for connections and Twitter is a great way to be able to interact with those that once seemingly were out of reach.  If journalists and writers are using this medium, should we not understand or share it with our own students?

Literacy is something that continuously evolves and I am not here to condemn those that don’t use Twitter.  There are many areas of literacy that I can continue to improve (especially in the area of media literacy), but I know better to not just brush it aside and ignore it.  We always need to get better for our kids.  If we can’t understand all of the symbols in Twitter, learn how to write a tweet, and use those 140 characters (not all of the time) to lead people to more information, are we missing out on something?

As evidenced in the video below, there can be a lot of power in a simple tweet.  We need to learn and take advantage.



  1. Ryan Bretag just had a great post re: literacy. References Atwood as well. http://www.ryanbretag.com/blog/?p=2750 His discussion questions posed at the end of the post should definitely be considered by administrators and teacher leaders today. Pretty certain many of our schools aren't questioning our literacy practices as deeply as we should be.

  2. I was rolling along enjoying the post and then saw the video at the bottom and it really helped improve my Christmas spirit. I know that literacy is so important and I'm glad that you have emphasized that there is more to literacy than being able to read one of the "classics." Hope you have a wonderful holiday and hope to see you in Philly next month.

  3. Such a great, insightful post! I think you highlight the importance of educators being literate themselves (so they may teach literacy) regardless of our level of support for the medium. Our job is to prepare our students to be successful in the world they live in, not just the parts of it we support!

  4. I have written my own post on this as well. I want to have the impact with my words as you do with yours. I am new to blogging and Twiitter, but I am very passionate about getting the educators in my school and around the world to become connected. I have grown more as an educator in the last few months than I have in my first four years. I truly believe "two heads are better than one" and twitter has given my students and I hundreds of teachers inside my classroom. If you have time, please read my blog. I would appreciate any feedback!! http://wp.me/p1Xe7C-E

  5. Interesting post George. I have to say that John Seely Brown's comments on what literacy really is nails it. Teaching kids to navigate complex and often confusing spaces is primary for literacy. Gone are the days when information is sought through static sources such as periodicals, encyclopedias and text books On line searching is much more complex and takes real literacy skills not only on " how to" but in critical thinking and assessing reputable info and sources.

    Whether we encourage it or not, children are becoming self directed learners. When they want to know something they turn to google, they tweet it out, they search for like minded individuals on social media.
    Education is missing the boat if it doesn't step up and guide students in participatory learning. And how can that happen if Educators are not engaged themselves in this type of learning?

    I agree that Twitter can be a useful tool for Educators to further their own literacy skills in this area in order to facilitate this learning in their students. Here's why:

    Twitter requires the user to manage a flow of information that is constantly changing. The use of the medium is also amenable to increasing complexity. For example, progressing from simple tweeting to the managing of lists, hash tags and professional chats.
    Twitter requires the reader to think critically and assess the validity and/or relevance of sites and blogs. It also allows the development of skills in commenting and supporting your own ideas.
    As well, in developing a PLN on Twitter, users learn the fine art of mixing professional and personal engagement which is essential in navigating social networks for professional learning.

    So while Twitter is not the only medium for educators to develop these skills, it's functionality and it's global acceptance make it an ideal one.

    • Thank you for your comments to thus post. It encouraged me to read your ththoughts on mixing personal with professional on tweeter. I couldn't have word it better. @DrFPalmer #coteaching

  6. Hi George,
    You have made me realize how important it is for me to teach Twitteracy to my students. I often open my Tweetdeck and display it on our IWB after we have done a collaborative activity with another class in another location. My students can see how the other teacher and I share what we have just done via Twitter. I set up a class account two years ago, but have not felt comfortable using it yet. I am ready to change that in 2012. Thanks for giving me a push in the right direction.

  7. Thank you George for the lovely post! I will be using it as part of our PD on January 2nd. Often when folks come into my office, they make some remark about my four columns of tweets that I monitor through Tweetdeck– some say it resembles alien language, or noise or even, it seems cacophonous. I've always thought that while the separate tweets seem like individual notes or harmonic phrases, for me it all comes together like a symphony–sometimes light and jazzy and sometimes Wagnerian. I suppose it is all what meaning you make of it and that is the truest form of literacy. I loved the video at the end–another wonderful lesson for our students that their voices do matter. Thank you!

  8. Just like to say that lying in bed on a Boxing Day morning in balmy Adelaide (visiting for Christmas), I am enjoying your Twitteracy blog. Ah, the power and spread of social media and iPads. So much more encouraging that reading the News. So much more diverse than old paradigm. So much more interesting than 'push' media. Thanks George.

  9. George I really enjoyed this post. Previous commentators have said it all. And yes, much more positive than reading the news this post-Christmas morning.
    I am new at tweeter and blogging. I learned so much more in one month by the way of tweeter, than in countless, boring PD sessions. The resources I found via posts on tweeter and professionals I'm following are giving me the professional mana I need. Thanks!
    @DrFPalmer #coteaching

  10. I'm wondering if certain aspects of this post aren't a year or two out of date. For instance the reference to exponential growth (of Twitter) … it would have to be a very small exponent because Twitter numbers are usually quoted in the 400-800 million range… there isn't much room for exponential growth. The reference to journalists also seems a dated one, at least to me.

  11. See, but here's the thing, George: At least here in the States, learning to "navigate" is completely irrelevant simply because there is a pacing guide — scripted day-by-day — for the entire curricula regardless of what grade level or subject you are teaching.

    So we talk about the importance of learning to navigate but then we don't give anyone — teachers or students — the freedom to navigate. We harp on teachers for not learning to navigate even though they're working in organizations that refuse to allow them to navigate.

    That's what leaves me hacked off.

    If we really want these kinds of skills and behaviors to creep into the lives of teachers and students, it's about flippin' time that we make changes to the scriptedness of the world that we're creating in our schools.


  12. Use what you like.
    If you use a charcoal kettle they are pretty much airtight and you can just close it up and let the fire go out. Preburned brickettes are also easier to light.
    But those small gas units work in a pinch.

  13. Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with SEO? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good results. If you know of any please share. Thank you!

  14. Hey there! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Appreciate it

  15. Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this blog. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appearance. I must say that you’ve done a great job with this. Also, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Safari. Superb Blog!

  16. Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you Nevertheless I am experiencing problem with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss drawback? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

  17. Great post. I used to be checking continuously this weblog and I am impressed! Very useful information specifically the closing phase :) I maintain such information much. I used to be looking for this certain info for a very long time. Thanks and good luck.

  18. Can I simply say what a relief to search out someone who actually is aware of what theyre speaking about on the internet. You undoubtedly know methods to bring a difficulty to light and make it important. More individuals have to read this and perceive this aspect of the story. I cant consider youre no more widespread since you positively have the gift.

  19. The next time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I imply, I know it was my choice to read, however I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix in the event you werent too busy in search of attention.

  20. Pingback: Revisiting Cursive

Comments are closed.