The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting - National Council of Teachers of English
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The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting

This post is written by member Bridget Fullerton. 

b_fullerton-photo_webThough we know that our students are always-already writers, asking them to think of themselves as such can seem like a burdensome prospect. When I ask my students on the first day of class how they feel about academic writing, too many of them look forlorn and express frustration, anxiety, boredom, or a lack of connection. When I ask them about their texting practices or the social media they engage in, however, they perk up and the conversation turns giggly. “That’s writing?” they ask. “Isn’t that just talking to our friends?”

Well, yes. It is. But it’s also a significant rhetorical practice. Indeed, I can remember a time in the late 80s and early 90s when “just talking to my friends” involved a decent amount of covert drafting and revision and even a thoughtful consideration of medium and rhetorical audience. Yes, I’m talking about the joy of passing notes. Though not really efficient, note-passing was fun and it was writing. Indeed, I wrote some of my best poetry and song lyrics in the notes I passed to my friends. Being terribly shy as a teenager, I would also venture to guess that my most honest opinions and authentic voice came through in many of those angst-ridden scribblings.

It was also a very physical process, with a clear social purpose and its own unique constraints. A note had to be covertly written, folded just so, and exchanged slyly through trusted channels in order to reach its intended audience at the opportune moment. You couldn’t ask too many other friends to join in the transfer because the risk of public scandal proportionately increased with the amount of hands involved in an exchange. And you would never think to bring adults into the conversation.

Now, I don’t remember any high school teachers confiscating a note I’d written and using it as a teaching moment, but in honor of the National Day on Writing I intend to embrace social media as a similarly significant rhetorical practice worth incorporating in my classroom. For one, I believe social media moves us beyond some of the constraints to which note-passing was subject in interesting ways. It allows students to make their ideas public, for example, even if those ideas are only 140 characters or fewer. And when these ideas are targeted toward a particular topic (e.g., hashtagged), large groups of young people—and adults—can engage in a momentary writing connection that reaches far beyond the walls of a classroom or university and that offers the possibility of new ways of thinking about an issue together.

Social media also allows students to practice a lighter form of writing—a form that perhaps is too often eschewed in order get to the more serious business of academic and college-level writing. This is an important business to be certain, but why can’t students write sometimes just for fun—to giggle, to laugh, to enjoy, or to respond lightly to something and trust that that is writing too? Indeed, taking a few moments in a writing class to play with words might lead students to some deeper insights that intellect alone cannot reach.

On this October 20th, then, I intend to make the #WhyIWrite tweetup a teaching moment and will invite my fellow university writing instructors to do the same. The experience may be fleeting, but I hope together we can enjoy the unbearable lightness of Tweeting and be open to the rhetorical insights it brings us.

Bridget Fullerton (@magistrafull), NCTE member since 2014, is a PhD candidate (A.B.D.) in the Department of English at the University of Rhode Island. She also teaches courses and serves as First-Year Writing Coordinator for the Department of Writing & Rhetoric. Her interests include multimodal composition and ePortfolios, curriculum design and assessment, writing program administration and professional development, and social justice and feminist pedagogy.