Social Media Experiment: Brain & Learning; Formative Assessment

As an experiment in Learning by Doing, I sent the following email to my tweeps (and then others) to help me practice primacy-recency.

I’m hoping you’ll be willing to experiment with me, experiment with something that we are learning in the Faculty Cohort.  This year we are using How the Brain Learns by David A. Sousa as the foundation reading for our work.  We been working on a practitioner’s corner about primacy-recency.  (An excerpt from the chapter is linked at

Will you consider taking a quick break at approximately 20 minutes after class begins to take 2 minutes to tweet what is being learned in your class?  

“This research indicates that there is a higher probability of effective learning taking place if we can keep the learning episodes short and, of course, meaningful. Thus, teaching two 20-minute lessons provides 20 percent more prime-time (approximately 36 minutes) than one 40-minute lesson (approximately 30 minutes). Note, however, that a time period shorter than 20 minutes usually does not give the learner’s brain sufficient time to determine the pattern and organization of the new learning, and is thus of little benefit.”
How the Brain Learns, David A. Sousa

If you are willing to participate, could we try this next week.  Could we try the following?

  1. Pause at approximately 18-20 minutes and ask our students to do a quick write about what they are learning or doing in class.  (a form of self-assessment; do I know what I’m supposed to be learning?)
  2. Let them quickly share what they wrote.  (a form of formative assessment, are they learning what I intend?)
  3. At from your computer (displayed for Ss to see) tweet a summary of what is being learned or done using the hashtag #20minwms. (this models using social media for learning)
  4. Follow the tweets from this hashtag to be more informed about each other and what we are learning/doing in class to possibly find curricular connections and common ground.

If you lead learning for students older than 18, will you tweet too? 

We have found that asking the kids to help us pause for this break works really well.

 Will you forward this to other WMS colleagues that tweet?

 What do you think?


use #20minwms as the hashtag.  I might practice tomorrow.

The results of the practice day have been fun as well as interesting.  The tweets, of course, can be seen if you search with our hashtag.  The conversations have been great!

  • Three colleagues created a Twitter account.
  • Four other colleages tweeted for the first time.
  • Four colleages have read the research and discussed it with others.
  • Approximately 35 tweets by 9 faculty members. (Some are still learning about hashtags, isn’t that great?)
  • The Director of Teaching and Learning at one of our feeder schools was intrigued enough to tweet in and ask a question.  Her first tweet said “Hey WMS folks, I’m super intrigued by – connected 2 @, I know, but pls explain.”
  • Quantum Progress not only participated but documented his method and results in his 20 minute pulse checks! blog post.
  • Two different PLCs briefly discussed the big ideas of Dr. Sousa’s research.
  • Colleagues report how amazed, impressed, wowed they are by their learners’ summaries of what is being learned.
  • Colleagues discuss the difference in affect and engagement after the short break.  Students are ready to learn; they will concentrate again.
  • Some teachers tweeted with their phones; others tweeted from the computer displayed on their SmartBoard.  Students could see first hand how to use social media for learning.  We modeled what we want them to learn.

Teachers tackled the request in different ways.  I observed, first hand, @occam98 have his students do a quick write about what they were learning on a scratch piece of paper.  He collected the papers, shuffled them, and handed them back.  Each student read one aloud, but it was not their own sentence.  Then the class summarized the learning of the class.  From my perspective, this gave students confidence to share their thoughts even if they said “I have learned that I lack confidence in what we are doing.”  He was kind enough to document some individual responses on his blog.

During the Writing Workshop team meeting, @epdobbs planned to have each student write their sentence, share, and then one quote was selected to represent the class.  A student could see their sentence published.  One example:

 learned 2 use diction in a poem; poems can be difficult when comparing two things; diction adds layer; wc=theme; FUN; verse! -D7

In drama, @galanesmcmillan reported 

“Kids learning to “read people….made us a better audience and actor…follow hunches…talking not always all that acting is” .  

And in 6th grade math, @kplomgren broadcast

 Fractions & Mixed #’s & how to convert; in division, numerator is always the remainder, how to find the mystery # – 5th per s’s.”

Isn’t this what learning should look and feel like?  We are learning together, choosing to learn, teaching and supporting each other.  While we generally teach in isolation, we can leverage social media to find connections and common interests.  We are, in a sense, celebrating our work and the learning of all involved no matter their age.

We are modeling learning, examining and sharing our practices, and having fun!


  1. Very good concept. Studying for an MSc in a 3rd World Country, I will be able 2 update myself wit my counterparts in the developed word. Thanks.


  2. […] Carol Ann Tomlinson at the Learning Forward conference helped me connect formative assessment with differentiated instruction, the primacy-recency research from Dr. Sousa, and our faculty assessment plan.These are just a few ideas on how to use Twitter for learning.  Just read the #20minwms tweets to see how our team of learners is using tweets to […]


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