Using Twitter to Scaffold English Composition

Using Twitter to Scaffold English Composition

Brian C. Harrell (The University of Akron, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0562-4.ch003
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This chapter explores the idea, and offers three real-life, classroom tested assignments, of using the rules of social media, specifically Twitter, to teach students the rhetorical moves needed to write essays of college length and quality. The assignments provide first-year composition students the tools necessary to read an academic article, understand the rhetoric behind it, and apply rhetorical strategies it to his or her writing. The three assignments: 1) rhetorically analyze Twitter and create a formula for an effective tweet; 2) rhetorically analyzing an academic article 140 characters at a time; and 3) rhetorically analyzing a student's own paper using these same 140-character sound bites, have shown to put students in a position to be successful in the academy. Each assignment has been fully vetted over three years, with a myriad of student examples. This paper shows that the rules of Twitter can be used academically to provide a knowledge base and scaffolding for student writers.
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In 2011, as a University of Akron graduate assistant pursuing a master’s degree in English Composition, I was charged with teaching a class of 25 first-year college students to become writers and learn how to succeed in academic settings. In order to do this, students would need to understand the writing process, be able to rhetorically analyze, and respond appropriately to, any academic situation and text, be able to engage in critical reading and writing, and be able to write for different genres in the academy.

As the semester began, I quickly realized that many of the students were not capable of entering into academic discourse as easily as I had hoped. I was going to have to find a way to build a bridge, or, as David Wood, Jerome S. Bruner, and Gail Ross (1976) suggest, scaffold the student’s learning. According to Wood, Bruner, and Ross, scaffolding consists “of the adult ‘controlling’ those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence” (p. 90). To properly scaffold the class I was teaching, I had to determine the student’s range of competence and begin to build. By gaining an understanding of the writings of Wood, Bruner, and Ross, Lev Vygotsky, Peter Elbow, Bruce McComiskey, and other respected scholars in the field, I began to guide my writing students through the requirements of English Composition, by creating a social network inside the class.

Each day that I entered the classroom, students were on their cell phones, composing on various social networks. It was then that I realized, instead of asking the students to put away their phones in order to learn composition, I could use social media and their phones to create a genesis. I chose to focus on Twitter. My students came into the classroom proficient at being able to compose, not in the ways of academia, but on social media. It was my job to take this developed social function and begin to build.

The essay that follows explains how I have created ways to use Twitter in my first-year English Composition classroom, results as well as implications these assignments can have on other composition classrooms are also explicated here.

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