Summarizing Well Is a Tweet Skill

Participating in written group discussion is becoming an essential 21st century skill. Our students have to learn to “converse” in forums, newsgroups, and blog threads, as well as learning to answer short-answer and essay questions.

People must be able to summarize well in order to participate in written discussion. Quoting takes more space and can lead to plagiarism and copyright violations.

Your students may not understand the concept of summarizing, but they probably understand how to “tweet” on Twitter. Instead of asking students to summarize a something they are reading (paragraph, chapter, article, etc.) have them write Twitter posts.

Twitter accounts can be restricted to viewing by only a select group., which lets you use Twitter summaries for class activities, homeschool cooperatives, after school programs, book discussions, etc.

This information originally appeared in January, 2009 Writing Points, © 2009 Linda Aragoni

Desensitizing Writing-Adverse Students

I once had a first-year college student who broke into a sweat and shook at the sight of a blank piece of paper. I’ve never had another student with such an extreme reaction to a blank page, but I’ve had plenty whose clenched jaws and pained expressions testified to their inner state.

You can reduce the stress of writing for struggling students two simple ways:

  • Require frequent informal writing.
  • Reduce the size of the writing surface.

Informal writing lets students get used to the physical act of writing down their thoughts.  Familiarity breeds comfort. Also, since informal writing is graded A or F solely on the whether students did it, students don’t have reason to be afraid of fixing words in to paper.

You can have students do writing tasks on 3×5 cards or quarter-page scratch pads.   The small writing surface is adequate for many writing tasks, such as creating a working thesis or summarizing the main point of assigned reading.

You could have students use a microblogging site like Twitter or Edmodo as the digital equivalent of small pieces of paper. If your students lack motor skills necessary for handwriting, such digital platforms will probably work better for them than paper.

On the other hand, recent research indicates handwriting notes is better for learning than typing keyboard. That suggests you may want to have students handwrite informal responses at least when you are having them write to reinforce something you’ve just presented.


A version of this article originally appeared in the November, 2008,  issue of Writing Points, ©2008 Linda Aragoni

Is the tech use infographic reliable?

An infographic on students’ use of technology is zooming around cyberspace this morning. Twitter users among the ed tech and digital-tools-in-the-classroom gurus are retweeting that “Twitter enabled classrooms produce better grades.”

Come on folks, let’s apply those 21st century information analysis skills you’re always saying students need to use.  I don’t expect tech-obsessed Matthew Panzarino over at The Next Web to read analytically for education information, but I do expect educators like Miguel Guhlin to pay attention to the nuances.

The source of the infographic is If you visited the site, you know it’s a directory of online educational programs that’s supported by those programs’ advertising. The About page gives no information about the site owners. Those two facts alone should set off alerts that the information may not be reliable.

Did you notice that the individual facts on the infographic are not cited? Does that suggest anything to you?

Did you check the references listed on the infographic? They are not hyperlinks, so you have to retype the URLs. If you do get to the sources, what do you find?

One source listed is EducatedNation. EducatedNation should not be confused with the NBC News site EducationNation. EducatedNation is a blog whose about page says it “consists of two writers,” whose names are not given.

The EducatedNation piece consists primarily of a news release from CourseSmart™, a company that sells digital textbooks and other digital course materials, about results of a study done for them by Wakefield Research. Most of the facts on the infographic are from this news release.

The next largest source of information for the infographic is the Pearson Foundation. You’ll remember Pearson as the greedy, publicly traded, for-profit educational publishing company that Web2.0 educators are always criticizing for taking money away from public education.

Got that?

The two main sources of the infographic are companies that sell the products the infographic describes.

I’m pretty sure educators would think there was something fishy about a study commissioned by a drug company that found the company’s new pill was the greatest discovery since aspirin.

It’s instructive to compare Wakefield’s summary of the study results, posted to its blog, with the CourseSmart™ spin on those results. CourseSmart™ focus is that digital devices are about to take over the world and educators shouldn’t be left behind. Wakefield says “hardcopies still reign supreme” while predicting “a shift toward more digital textbooks among college students can be expected in the future.”

The section of the infographic that Twitter fans are emoting over says:

Students in classes that use Twitter to increase engagement have been found to average 5 grade points higher than those in normal classes.

I spent over an hour finding the original source for that. I thought it might be Rey Junco blog listed in the sources, since Junco specializes in students of social media in higher education. However, it turned out that the URL cited on the infographic leads to  another infographic that is based on Rey Junco’s study comparing students in college classes using Twitter and those in regular college classes.

Once more, ed techies, ask yourselves whether as educators you’d let students get away with such sloppy work as wrongly attributing a source. If you do and your students end up in my first year English class, there will be hell to pay.

(If you are one of those cutting-edge, think-outside-the-box folks who says we should get rid of grades entirely, you should also ask yourself why the fact that a technology improves grades make the technology seem valuable to you. I know you won’t ask yourself that, but you should.)

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for, the place where I finally say finally.

The introduction to the infographic says:

While it’s no secret that college students are addicted to technology, the specifics of their gadget usage have never been scientifically studied — until now. While the extent of students’ dependence on tech might be a tad alarming, there’s good news too: much of their screen time is spent learning.

Notice, please, that infographic doesn’t say students are spending screen time learning course material. In fact, the material emphasizes that using digital technologies mean students spend less time studying.

Also notice that all the data on the infographic is about college students behavior.  No matter how many times you retweet the link to the infographic, you cannot make the data apply to a third grade class  in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Klout’s in minds of Tweet readers

The first thought that went through my mind as I woke up Thursday was, “I wonder if there is a special name for the whiskers on a catfish.”

Normal people do not wake up wondering about catfish whiskers, but I’ve been a writer and writing teacher all my life. Wondering about stuff is what I do.

A couple hours later, someone whose name I had not noticed in my Twitter stream before, posted a clever math comment:

@ronkowitz There’s a fine line between numerator and denominator. (BTW, it called the vinculum)

Not only is that a good pun but also a new word for my vocabulary. I retweeted the comment and asked the author if he knew the proper name for catfish whiskers. In under 5 minutes, I had an answer—and a connection to someone with stimulating, eclectic interests.

I began using Twitter a bit over a year ago. It quickly became a must-have tool for my work—educators’ call it professional development—and my water cooler for casual chat when time permits.

Like many other educators on Twitter, I scanned the Education Next  list of the “Top 25 Educator Tweeters” to see if they’d picked my personal favorites.  There were names I knew, some whose Tweets I follow, but relatively few with whom I’ve had any interchanges.

That didn’t surprise me.

The tweeter with a gazillion followers isn’t going to have rich, personal relationships with many of them. I’m cool with that. Even as a newspaper reporter, I preferred chatting with the guy who was installing a manure storage tank to interviewing the governor who was going to feed me his scripted comments.

I was amused, however, by the uproar from Tweeters who were incensed that their favorite education Tweeters were not in the top 25.

Bill Ferriter, over at his blog The Tempered Radical, posted the most sensible response to the Education Next list of the “Top 25 Educator Tweeters” that I’ve seen. [Bill moved his blog and the link I had no longer works.]

Bill says the value of Twitter for educators is that it encourages each of us personally to attend to tweeters who are talking now about topics we are interested in now. When our needs and interests change, our personal list of who is influential also changes.

I think Bill’s got it right.

Social media mimics socialization that’s not technology mediated.  Changes in your life—from a new job or new baby to a sump pump failure—bring you into contact with people who have a similar focus. When your circumstances change, the degree to which you interact with a familiar group of people may change, too, whether you are online or off.

Twitter has become my go-to place because it has such a diverse community of people I can tap when I need suggestions, links, encouragement, or the odd fact.  If you are missing Twitter, you’re missing easy access to professional development.

And you probably aren’t having much fun either.

Just for your information:

  • Bill Ferriter Tweets as @plugusin.  His new blog is
  • According to @ronkowitz, the side whiskers on a catfish are maxillary barbels.
  • The photo of catfish is by Bubbels
  • Education Next’s Twitter handle is @EducationNext