Friday, February 25, 2011

How I am Using Social Media in my Classroom

First a little history: Two years ago through the I “met” two English teachers, one from outside Philly and the other from southern California.  We started talking and decided to try using a ning to help our students discuss issues in The Great Gatsby.  For my class, I made it voluntary since it was my first attempt at such an assessments, I was new to the ECning and just learning about social networking and as a district we were in the infancy of our current technology plan.  Also, a number of parents were not comfortable with their children participating in this type of activity.  Some of the kids had Facebook pages but even they were leery of putting themselves out there.
Fast forward two years:  Last year I did not have Sophomores nor did I get the opportunity to explore this activity with a different work.  Plus, we were (and still are as it is a living experience) working on our technology plan and AUP. 
Currently I am reading The Great Gatsby with my two level one sophomore classes. Luckily for me I have small classes. I reached out to Ms. L Park at Episcopal HS outside of Philly and asked if she was interested in doing the same thing.  Fortunately she was about ready to start Gatsby and jumped at the opportunity.  She still had the ning set up from two years ago, she was still using it with her students.  (I am not going to give out the URL because in the permission slips I stated how controlled the environment is and that no one participating would be able to join.)
Even though we are not at the exact same place in the book we are able to engage in discussions about the many topics (themes, characters, symbols, style, etc) in the book.  For me one of the best outcomes has been the quality of the posts from my students.  I have students who struggle with writing and who, by their own admission, are not the most motivated. 
There is a section on the ning where students post a little biography about themselves.  I have learned so much about my quietest students that I am able to reach them in new ways.  It is truly amazing!  Additionally, the quality of their writing is better in their posts than what they usually turn it.  They care more because I’m not the only one reading what they write.  We spent some time and used class resources (The Little Brown Handbook) to talk about the “rules” for posting to online resources.  I told them that their grade would be based on the number and quality of their posts.
Aside from the writing quality that has impressed me and is important there is also a great cognitive value to what my students are doing.  My students are gaining an understanding of the novel that is greater than I alone can provide them because they are reading posts from other students and gaining a perspective that I am not “telling” them or forcing them to see.  While this is all anecdotal evidence I see student growth/progress in my classes and that is a good thing.

Next week, Twitter for Professional development


  1. I love the biography idea. I have students who are very quiet, and don't let on who they really are inside. I wonder how I might incorporate that into my Java class?