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Twitter’s Cozy Reading Corner

By Judith H. Van Alstyne
 | Apr 05, 2019

Writing letters to authors has long been a practice in schools to create connections between children and the authors they admire. This activity allows children to see authors as real people and perhaps to imagine themselves as future authors. Although nothing can replace the tangible connection of exchanging handwritten letters, and emailing is also an option, I would like to suggest a third alternative: Tweeting to your favorite author.

An important aspect of becoming literate in the digital age is understanding not just the technological skills but also the norms of digital spaces in order to successfully participate in that digital community. Although most social media sites, such as Twitter, are intended for users ages 13 or older, many younger children are already participating. Nearly half (46%) of children have some form of social media by age 11, according to a 2017 Ofcom report, and most learn about social media long before that. Which begs the question, what concepts are they forming about the ethos of Twitter before they ever try their hands at tweeting?

Process

As a school librarian and doctoral student in digital literacies, I was interested in trying a “Tweet to Your Favorite Author” activity with elementary school students. I created a Twitter account for our school’s readers and designed lessons for students in grades 3–5, which started with exploring what they already knew about Twitter. It didn’t take long for a student to bring up statements by and about President Trump. I was delighted to introduce them to a different corner of the “Twitterverse,” where children’s book authors, librarians, teachers, and readers passionately communicate about books.

Students then decided on an author and set about discovering his or her Twitter handle. Googling for current, relatively easy-to-identify information such as a Twitter handle was an accessible, satisfying exercise for them; the answer was usually the first thing listed in the search results. Once the children finished composing their tweets on paper, we revised and proofread them, typed them up, tweeted them out, and then anxiously waited for responses.

Results

We were very excited to receive some “likes” and even replies. I took screenshots of the responses and printed them out as keepsakes for the students. Some tweets did not receive any responses, which was naturally disappointing. However, it provided an opportunity to discuss the emotional aspects of social media, such as how it feels to get “likes” or not. Luckily, many authors are dedicated tweeters and we found that specific questions sometimes received informative answers such as the one below from Kazu Kibuishi.

twitters-reading-corner-1 copy

Some enthusiastic students tweeted to multiple favorite authors and even had more sustained conversations, such as the one below with Kiki Thorpe.

twitters-reading-corner-2 copy

We had many thoughtful responses from children’s book authors, which brightened our day. I suspect the feeling was mutual, as they probably do not get many tweets from 8- and 9-year-olds. Below is a reply from David A. Kelly, who said, “I live to hear from readers like you.” There truly is a cozy reading corner on Twitter. Exposing children to the supportive, book-loving conversations that happen there, and allowing them to participate, not only expands their understanding of how social media works, but also how it can be used meaningfully to connect with the people they admire.

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Judith H. Van Alstyne is head librarian at Allendale Columbia School and a PhD student at The Warner School of Education at The University of Rochester.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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