Monday, February 21, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder in 140 Characters or Less

The On the Banks of Plum Creek unit is coming to an end, which means its time for reflection. (Read more about this unit in the Literature of True Life post.) As I think back, I’ve realized that, during this unit, one of the most helpful resources was Twitter.

At first, I had reservations about using Twitter. (Would the hype overshadow the educational aspect? Would my students understand how to use this tool to express their understanding of what they read?) Each student chose a character and wrote a main idea Tweet for each chapter from their characters’ point of view. As the unit progressed, my fifth graders enjoyed posting and their Tweets were usually accurate, insightful, and even entertaining.

Some Tweet highlights:

At the beginning of the story, the family arrives at the dugout house after traveling in a covered wagon across the Midwest.

@Laura (the main character): Finally I got here. I’ve been waiting to get out of the wagon and walk for months!
@Jack (the family dog): I have been traveling for days. I am exhausted and I arrived at the dugout!

Later, Laura is exploring Plum Creek and runs into a badger.

@Laura: I was scared because I saw an old gray badger, but I never saw it again. Pa punished me and I was so bored.
@Pa: (the family patriarch): Laura went back to the lake and saw an animal and ran away. I punished her for one day.

In The Haystack, Laura and Mary repeatedly play in a haystack even after Pa tells them not to.

@Jack: I can’t believe Mary lied to Pa like that about playing in the haystack. Pa must be really mad. This is so out of character for Mary.
@Pa: I yelled at Laura and Mary for wrecking the haystack that I made.

In one chapter, Pa and Ma are coming back from town and their oxen run away with the wagon. Pa has to stop them from running into the creek.

@Jack: I was so scared, my master was in danger, I was glad he got ahold of Pete and Bright.
@Pa: I came back to the dugout and brought candy. I almost died in the creek because the cows did not stop.

After using Twitter for seven weeks, here’s what I noticed:

Tweeting definitely helped my students crystallize the main idea. They showed me each Tweet before they posted it and I could immediately tell if they understood the chapter or not. If they didn’t get the main idea right away, we revised the Tweet together.

Writing their Tweets was an opportunity to review sentence structure, capitalization, and punctuation rules. Because they were only writing a few sentences, my students were able to really focus in on making that sentence as clear and complete as possible.

Twitter connected them to a larger Laura Ingalls Wilder community and fan base. My students connected with Little House fans @TrundlebedTales and @HalfPintIngalls, as well as resources @LIWMuseumWG (the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Minnesota) and @LHOTMuseum (the Little House on the Prairie Museum). This expanded their idea of how other readers engage with the Little House books and made them feel a part of something larger than the classroom, the ultimate goal of social media.

If you’re thinking about using Twitter, Once a Teacher… has a helpful blog post about getting started.