One of the problems that I have encountered when asking students to work independently is that I need to
create some system of accountability. In my Project-Based Learning (PBL) units, I often provide my students with many sources and options to learn, and I ask each working group to create a Google site as a hub for their running notes. This allows me to constantly check in on their work and to therefore monitor how they are progressing, issues that they may be having, and so on.
However, I have often been bothered by the fact that many students, and we are talking about honors students here, are often not good at summarizing material. Very often, I open a Google site to find verse-by-verse translation/explanation of material where a couple of well-thought-out sentences would have sufficed. It reached a point where some students were so focused on the verse that they were reading that they lost sight of the greater context, often asking me questions whose answers were contained in the previous paragraph.
Today I finally decided to do something about this. Rather than have my students walk into class, form into their regular work groups, and fan out across the building working on their assignments, I had everyone come into class together and sit down with an ipad (we use an ipad cart in my class) and a text. Each student was assigned one section (one parashat ha-shavua) and told that they were to read five verses and then boil all of that down to one tweet. Not one sentence - one, little, 140-character tweet. They were to do the same for the next five verses, and the five after that, and the five after that (and five more tweets for further practice tonight).
Aware of the fact that my students tend not to use Twitter, and that there are likely parents that do not want their children to do so, I created a Twitter account for our class (@7AChumash) and had everyone log in and post through that account. Blessedly, a Twitter account can be signed in on multiple devices at once and thus the entire class could engage in this activity at the same time. You can see some of their results by clicking on the link above.
All in all, the students enjoyed this activity and benefited greatly from it. For some, the challenge was how to shrink their tweets down by a few characters, and I explained that text language, abbreviations, and misspellings were par for the course. For almost all of them, the process of determining which information was essential and which was less-important detail was a valuable exercise in the fine art of summarizing. Hopefully, this will carry over into their daily research and their notes will become more focused while simultaneously becoming shorter.