A call for help after Facebook frenzy

5 08 2011

Something very strange happened in my Advanced One class this evening.  We’d discussed last class how they knew they needed to practice writing (I managed to stop myself correcting them to develop) but that they didn’t like the writing tasks in the next unit of the book.  So I’d decided to be cool and trendy teacher (they’re 14/15 year olds) and suggest setting up a blog.

However, I also decided to be a student-centred, Dogme-style teacher (I know, I know, we went to the computer room) and let them actually set up the blog during the class.  The plan was to choose a name and what categories we’d aim for and then head to the computer room, set it up, discuss which theme to use and I’d set them a homework task of writing their profiles for the About page.

But when I mentioned this option to them, something strange happened.  They nigh on demanded that instead of a blog we open a Facebook group.   My immediate reaction was to say no, but I couldn’t think of any particualr reason why not (apart from a rather worrying nagging voice in the back of my head singing ‘security, security, security’ at me while I tried to dissuade them from continuing).  What followed was a coherent and cohseive debate on their part of the advantages of Facebook groups over blogs, I meekly conceded, but insisted they sat back down and we planned the launch properly (they had stood up as if by instinct as soon as I mentioned the words ‘computer room’).

They came up with the most boring name in the world, insisted the group was closed so none of their friends could laugh at their English (I doubt they have any friends whose English is better than theirs) and then positively begged me to post homework tasks so that they could complete them as notes on Facebook.

And off we went to the computer room…what followed was half an hour of incredible interaction, 95% of which was in English and about 40/60 split between writing and speaking.  The interaction between the four of us (I know, very small class, not empirically acceptable) while we sat at the computers was some of the best conversation I’ve witnessed in one of my classes.

One of the girls was overgrouped and so couldn’t join our group and noone could find her groups to ungroup her to allow her to join us in our group – there was language of suggestion, demonstrations of frustration, explanations, demonstrations, justifications for various odd groups she’d joined, all carefully monitored by yours truly.  Chucking in the odd technical Facebook / computer word and reformulating some of their functional language, they quickly took on new phrases and made them their own.

The other girl set up the group, named the group and invited us all and the absent ones to the group, when something really cool happened.  One of the boys who hadn’t turned up to class accepted her invitation to the group.  He even then did the task I set them – to write a quick intro to themselves.  And I merrily reacted to the content of their posts and included correct versions of their language in my responses.  And was even able to get the lad who’d not come to do the homework for next class.   I found out about their favourite music, the sports they play and that they’re all addicted to Facebook, all useful info to use to tailor texts and tasks to their likes.

Having used up my homework task in the class, I even managed to come up with another one on the spot for them to do at home, simply recommend a website in English and give three reasons why we as a class would like it.  Hopefully that will stoke their enthusiasm til next time.  My problem, and where you come in is, what do I do next time?  I mean, what do we do next time?  I can’t let them spend all their classes on Facebook, but have I lost them from the classroom?  Maybe I can use it as a reward at the end of classes if they’ve worked well and kept it in English?  Or just use it as a homework tool from now on?  They seemed so enthusiastic about the group ‘this is cool’, ‘I’m having fun’ (even the lad who was absent seemed to feel he was missing out) that I really don’t want to poor cold water on their fires by going the wrong way next time out.  Help!

What I need is advice, suggestions, ideas and help, any help, please.  Does anyone tend a Facebook group with their classes?  How do you use it?  What do you get the students to do on it?  How often do you use it?  What’s the balance between class and home time?  How do you go about improving their language while they use it?  Today has engendered such feelings of success (where’s @Harmerj and his flip when you need him) but also a plethora of questions.  Can you help me with the answers?