According to the teachers at San Marcos Unified School District, incoporating the use of facebook in English classes enhances the students social-networking as well as improving scores. Some of the North County schools are bringing a Facebook-like experience to English class to help improve student writing performance. Students create web pages on a password-protected district site to showcase their essays, poems and book reports, as well as post photos, videos and audio clips to augment their presentations. The classmates can see each others’ work, from early drafts to finished products, and are encouraged to offer comments and suggestions to other writers. Assignments no longer are just read by a single teacher.“With social networking, they share their work with a whole class. They care a lot more about it and are willing to do things to make it special,” said Allen Teng, a Woodland Park Middle School teacher on special assignment who provides classroom support for the program. Using a $1.15 million state grant, the district bought more than 300 netbooks, a handful of digital cameras and camcorders and other equipment and trained 33 English teachers at Woodland Park, San Elijo and San Marcos middle schools how to use the new tools to stimulate interest and improve writing. The program, which was put into practice in early 2010, is credited with boosting test scores and last month it was recognized with an “impact” award from the Classroom of the Future Foundation. “As we know, with adolescents there is no more important audience for them than their peers,” said Laurie Stowell, an education professor at Cal State San Marcos who helped train some of the teachers. “Just like (with) Facebook, they would rather have other people see and hear what they have to say.”Sixth-graders have grown up immersed in technology such as computers, smartphones and social networking sites, Stowell said, so the interactive nature of the program appeals to these “digital natives.”
In their classes, students are shown how to do Internet searches, participate in discussion boards, write blogs, take pictures and edit video and put together presentations.
“Web designers, photographers — that’s going to play a role in the future of all of these kids and it fits language arts standards, just not so much in the traditional way,” said Brian Frost, district project coordinator. “This creates more avenues to tap into their creativity and, frankly, their level of concern about what kinds of assignments they are turning in at the end of the day.” The technology gives shy students an easier way to participate in classroom discussions, allowing them to type feedback in a chat session instead of having to raise their hand to offer opinions. The district has seen gains in California Standards Test scores at the three schools, with seventh-graders’ writing scores improving from 64.6 percent in 2008-09 to 80.3 percent in 2009-10.
While many school districts are embracing technology in the classroom, few are integrating Internet-based tools in the way San Marcos Unified is to promote student interaction and spark interest in writing, said Greg Ottinger, director of online learning for the county Office of Education.
“Kids have no problem rattling off a thousand texts in a month,” Ottinger said. “If you can apply that same enthusiasm for the written word to scholarly or academic writing, you really have a recipe for engagement and success. They are meeting students where they want to learn.”