Every Monday night on Twitter, teachers who work with English-language learners connect with one another to engage in hour-long discussions and debates that unfold in 140-character tweets.
At 9 p.m. Eastern time, #ELLCHAT, co-hosted by two education consultants who specialize in working with ELL teachers, kicks off with the topic du jour.
Those topics range from the practical: How to select a complex text for beginning English-learners, for example, to policy: Ways to advocates for ELLs on local, state, and national issues in 2013.
The weekly chats might draw in dozens of tweeting participants, while countless others "lurk" by reading and retweeting. But over the course of the week, using the #ELLCHAT hashtag, many hundreds of questions, answers, resources, and other tidbits are swapped and shared, say Judie Haynes (@judiehaynes), a co-host who helped start the chat, and Karen Nemeth (@KarenNamethEdM), also a co-host. Both Haynes and Nemeth closely track what people tweet throughout the week and often select chat topics based on the issues they see most frequently raised. Upcoming topics are planned about a month in advance and are posted on a #ELLCHAT Facebook page that Haynes maintains.
Among the most pressing issues in recent months, are, of course, the Common Core State Standards and what those new academic expectations mean for ELLs and their teachers. Concerns about immigration policies and new assessments are also much talked-about topics lately.
#ELLCHAT is one of many education-focused discussions that play out on Twitter every day, and key to keeping it going, Haynes and Nemeth say, are the relationships that the users of #ELLCHAT build with one another. Twitter, increasingly, is a venue where educators can fashion and fine-tune professional development to meet their needs at any time.
"There's the immediacy of it that's so powerful for teachers who don't have time to follow every report or research article that comes out in their field," Nemeth said. And when someone in the #ELLCHAT community flags a resource as important, they know to take the time to look, she says.
The educators who use #ELLCHAT get answers to their questions from far beyond their school buildings and districts, and they get them fast, Haynes said. Because the focus, generally, is on teaching second-language learners, many #ELLCHAT users are from around the world, she said.
Haynes, who taught ESL for many years, started #ELLCHAT in May 2010 with colleague Linda Hahner (@LiteracyNetwork), an education consultant based in San Francisco. Nemeth, who is also a specialist in early-childhood education as well as dual-language learners, said educators can benefit just from following the discussions on Twitter, without having to be active participants. Both Haynes and Nemeth frequently give workshops and webinars on the value of using Twitter to create personal learning communities.
The next #ELLCHAT is tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern. Topic: The best sources for professional development for teachers of ELLs.