The University of Iowa

Opening up a World of Literacy Education Colleagues and Content Through Twitter

Twitter on smart phone

Through hashtags, Twitter chats and establishing a personal learning network, literacy educators can use Twitter as an additional form of professional development.


Sean Thompson

Communications Specialist, Iowa Reading Research Center

Posted on: November 15, 2016

You may have glanced at a fellow teacher’s laptop screen in the morning before school and noticed them scrolling through a series of 280-character bits of text. They might have been on Twitter in an effort to become a better teacher. People use social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat mainly to stay connected with friends and family, which is also true of educators. However, according to a 2013 survey from MCH Strategic Data, an education marketing firm, 82 percent of educators who use social media say they use it in part to share information and resources. As Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said in our previous blog post, educators across Iowa are dedicated and unwavering in their efforts to improve literacy for all students. For many, this includes using social media in addition to more traditional forms of professional development. For anecdotal evidence of this, I don’t need to look much further than our own Iowa Reading Research Center Twitter feed. We follow many of the educators who follow us, and the stream of tweets I see acts as an ongoing ticker of literacy education articles, examples shared straight from the classroom of various reading activities, and teachers communicating back and forth about the field of literacy. If you are new to social media, haven’t previously considered using it for learning and development, or are just interested in adding more tools to your literacy instruction toolbox, let’s look at a few ways in which literacy educators are using Twitter in this way.

Who You Follow: Establishing Your Personal Learning Network

Through Twitter, you can gain insight and interact with a group of literacy educators in Iowa and beyond. Chances are those educators you find on Twitter are going through similar challenges while teaching reading. They are sharing information they find to be helpful and asking for input. This type of peer-to-peer interaction can be of use when trying to work through issues of implementing evidence-based practices or when research evidence regarding an instructional strategy is lacking. Literacy educators on Twitter also share their successes and gain motivation and inspiration from other teachers’ triumphs in the classroom. How do you develop a personal learning network like this? An easy place to start is following the people you know in real life. Colleagues, teacher friends, educators you met at a professional development conference, etc. Now see who they are following that you might want to follow, and see which users’ content they are sharing (also known as retweeting). You also can check to see who is following literacy “brand” accounts such as the Iowa Reading Research Center. Finally, if there are prominent literacy researchers or instructors about whose work you want to stay informed, see if they are on Twitter by searching for their name on the site itself or in a search engine using “FIRSTNAME LASTNAME twitter.”

More Than a Pound Sign, Hashtags Unlock Specialized Content

You have probably seen hashtags on social media, which are any #keyword or #phrase preceded by a hashtag symbol (#). Some like #supertremendousawesome are used just for fun, but others are a way to both see and take part in a conversation about a given subject. Click on a hashtag and you will see a list of tweets using the hashtag. Add a hashtag to your tweet, and you will be included in that same list. Many hashtags are straightforward such as #reading, #literacy, and #dyslexia. Others are more specialized within education, such as #edchat (topics for educators) and #specedchat (special education). If you use a program like Tweetdeck, you can save a hashtag and always see tweets about a topic as they occur. A reading or other educational professional development conference might use a specific hashtag. This allows attendees to contribute feedback and share thoughts with other attendees as the conference is happening, and it also allows those not able to attend to follow along from wherever they are.

Join a Virtual Meetup Through Twitter Chats

Twitter allows for colleagues to host a meetup online (usually weekly but may be less frequently) to discuss a given topic. There are numerous weekly twitter chats that take place on a day of the week at a certain time. There is usually a specific theme or idea within the general topic chosen by a moderator for that week’s chat. These chats work by using a hashtag as described above. Participants can follow along easily using Tweetdeck or one of several other web clients available specifically for Twitter chats. Once the chat begins, introduce yourself and join the conversation! 

With Twitter and All Social Media, a Dose of Caution is Warranted

As with any resource you might find online or in the library, some things shared on Twitter and other social media may not be especially authoritative or helpful. Educators are generally sharing materials they think can be trusted, but as the consumer, you should always use discretion before believing something just because you saw it on Twitter. The following questions are intended to help you consider whether you need to look for a different resource.

  • What research evidence supports the reading instructional practices being suggested?
  • Is the source reputable within the field of education because of established expertise (as opposed to simply being popular)?
  • Does the resource rely on any unsubstantiated recommendations?

There is also a lot of understandable apprehension and caution on the part of educators regarding the use of Twitter. Your tweets could be read by your students, fellow teachers, and supervisors. Although these cautions are not fully addressed here, one rule of thumb to consider before you press “Tweet”: Would you be okay if your tweet showed up on the cover of the local newspaper or on the display monitors in your school? You also might want to check with your supervisor on any possible social media guidelines your school or district may have for teachers. If you decide to start using Twitter as part of your efforts to become a better literacy educator, try not to just be a consumer. Engage with your personal learning network! Contribute to the conversation by sharing resources or ideas that come from reputable sources and are supported by research findings. Remember, teaching can be a lonely profession sometimes, so feel free to show some love by replying to someone’s tweet that sparked your interest.