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?

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28 responses

5 08 2011
Tad

The only thing I tend is me tomato plants but I’ll have a wee think.

5 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Tad! Love the tomato tending :). And I’m looking forward to the fruits of your wee think, since they always come up with the goods.

5 08 2011
Tailor-made English

Sounds like you had a great class. This is something that I miss now that I mainly teach private classes.

I am not sure exactly how you can use this next time, but to keep it only as homework would seem a shame and might easily douse the flames.

Two ideas do spring to mind; 1 Ask them how they thing they can use Facebook to improve their English and still meet live up to your institutional responsibilites.

2. I read something recently (can’t remember what, I’ll try to dig it out) about using computer games for language learning. Facebook has a number of games that your students could suggest, and maybe even play them together collaboratively.

i am intrigued as to how you proceed with this.

Stephen

5 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Stephen,
Many thanks for the ideas, both really good ones. The first one is a great way to keep them at the centre of things, while off the computers, but on the Facebook wave, and the second is an excellent way of getting them working together and showing each other how to do things (and explaining things to the caveman they have for a teacher, which they love).

Will let you know how we get on.

5 08 2011
Tim Bray

We use it with our clubs and a few classes as a communication tool. It really is the easiest and fastest way to communicate with students at our school because they all have accounts.

6 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Tim,

Thanks for reading and commenting. We also use it for communication purposes – it really is scary just how often kids seem to spend on Facebook these days, so deffo something to take advantage of. But it’s how to use it in and out the class to promote language learning that I need help with…

5 08 2011
Rosie

Make them sign up to scrabble….and have that as a continuing game. It won’t even seem like homework x

6 08 2011
mcneilmahon

I like that idea Rosie, nice one. Think I might try concoct a little lesson around scrabble, it’s rules and tactics and scoring etc., unless someone else has already done one?

Must admit I’ve never played Scrabble on Facebook myself since worried I’d not do anything else with my life once I got started, but I guess the fun in beating 15yo Argentines will wear off before I retire :).

6 08 2011
Rosie

I’ve written a song about scrabble, it’s sort of half about scrabble and half about how you can’t always believe what people tell you. I’ll send you the lyrics if you like maybe you could use it. If you do make the scrabble lesson let me know cos maybe I could do it with my lot with the song at the end. x

7 08 2011
mcneilmahon

I’d love to see/hear/read the song and try and use it Rosie, that kind of thing’s right up my street (see Singing Songs 🙂 ). Not sure I’ll have a Scrabble lesson by Tuesday for their next class, but once I’ve got next weekend’s Delta sessions sorted I promise that’ll get my attention and you’ll be the first to hear about it.

6 08 2011
Liz

Increase your technology by trying voicethread, or having them read online English newspapers and sending letters to editors. Perhaps have them comment on other Fb pages (ones you have screened) such as student organizations. Epals is also popular for virtual pen pals- you could do a cultural exchange. What about using Diigo and having them create annotated lists of websites for teens? You can also create an online curated newspaper at paper.li focused on their interests which they could read and discuss. There are a lot of great free sites/resources for this age group.

7 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Liz,
Thanks for the great nudges in the right direction here. I’ve heard quite a few recommendations of voicethread, but not actually used it yet – perhaps this will be a great class for it? And i love the idea of them writing to Rupert Murdoch (Haha!). I’ll need to investigate Diigo in more detail as well too (or maybe just ask them about it, they probably already know all about it). And while paper.li is one of the banes of twitter, it’s a great idea for getting them to read and criticise, isn’t it? I’ll def take you up on that one. Thanks ever so much for the suggestions – you’ve just planned my next three classes (between Scrabble goes).

9 08 2011
Liz

Please let me know if you’re interested in having them talk to my undergraduate education students in Illinois, USA using some form of social networking to practice their skills (with monitoring of course). Our semester starts August 29th and I teach both educational technology and methods of social studies. It would be fun to exchange cultural information and current trends.

14 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Liz,
Thanks for the offer, I can definitely ask them if they’re interested, but think they might be overawed talking to your undergrad students – mine are 14/15 – and yours may not want to chat to teens. What do you think?

7 08 2011
mcneilmahon

I got all excited when I came across this link on Twitter: http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/08/50-reasons-to-invite-facebook-into-your-classroom/ but to be honest, there’s only about three new ideas in there I could use come Tuesday. You commenters and tomato tenderers (did you have a wee think Tad?) are much more helpful – please keep the ideas coming!

7 08 2011
Nikki

I had a similar experience with a group of learners and FB – and my group are at least 10 years older – so I guess it’s not just teenagers…

Have you seen/tried any of the 30 day challenges that seem to be floating around in cyberspace? Everyday, for 30 days, you post a photo/song/link that corresponds to a ‘rule’ for that day, on a set theme. One that I enjoyed watching – I’m a bit of a lurker 🙂 – was the 30 day song challenge. (http://www.facebook.com/pages/30-Day-Song-Challenge/120874111270003?sk=app_4949752878). Perhaps your group might enjoy this. You could exploit the activity by asking the learners to add a little information to what they post, or ask the others to guess who/why/what made them post what they did. Or maybe even create their own 30 day challenge.

I’ve just seen (via @AnaCristinaPrts) that twitter is now doing something similar too http://30tweet.com/.

This isn’t an activity intended for the classroom, though you can set it up in class, but it might be a way of motivating learners to interact in English outside the four walls of the classroom using facebook 🙂

Hope your next lessons goes well and thanks for the post 🙂

7 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Nikki,
Great to hear from you. And how did you follow up the initial experience? What can I do with them and Facebook next week? I want to keep up the momentum but do more than just ‘use Facebook’…

8 08 2011
Ana Cristina Pratas

Hi Neil,

Really enjoyed your post and do understand your concerns. I use Edmodo with my students; it’s a LMS platform which students enjoy using because of its similarities with Facebook. As a teacher, I easily upload documents & multimedia to share with different groups (there is a general library and then each group has its own library). I also keep marks on Edmodo so students can easily keep track of their progress. Another characteristic of Edmodo is that I can send out reminders regarding assessment (e.g. pop quizzes & due dates for assignments).

Besides messaging the whole group and individuals, I also use Edmodo to play games, for example, to revise vocab or grammar. Students keep focused and are socially engaged while learning (they forget about break time 🙂

Obviously I’m only sharing what I do (there are other LMS) but Edmodo has been a great (and safe) platform to work with students. Looking forward to reading more of your blog! 🙂

8 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Many thanks for this, Ana, I’ll certainly have to check Edmodo out. Thing is we’ve already started on Facebook and I can see the students seeing something like Edmodo as not being ‘authentic’ and they’ll also have to sign in especially to use it – I kinda like the fact that they will be reminded of English class quite often when they sign in to Facebook to do the things teens do….any further thoughts?

16 08 2011
carlossertao

Thank you so much for providing such useful article like this, keep it up, friend.

16 08 2011
mcneilmahon

You’re welcome Carlos, I’ll do my best!

16 08 2011
dzallocco

Hi Neil,
My suggestion is simply to use it how you were using the blog up to now. As a matter of fact, they are much more likely to check the facebook group than the blog itself. Although, I believe you should set some ground rules about security (don´t post pics of your students, or simply make it a closed group only members of the class can join). There are tons of things you can do with other interesting websites of educational content in English that can be later published on to their facebook group (Voki, what2learn, goanimate). I agree that Edmodo might be a better option to interact with students and teachers, but it doesn´t seem to be so effective with teens, since they already use facebook most of the time. I would also check how parents feel about this and involve them in the process too. An interesting way to start using your facebook group is give them assignments that help introduce a topic you will work with in class (I generally post brainteasers or challenges related to topics we will discuss). This will help them interact online and at the same time create expectations of what will happen the following class. Another possibility is planning your TBL lessons using technology and allowing them to explore different websites and tools and post their work on the group for others to browse.
Let me know how it goes!

16 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Daniela,

Good to hear from you and many thanks for the excellent ideas! So far I am using Facebook much like the blogs (which was my original intention) but I also want to try out some of the great suggestions here. I really like the idea of teasers for the lessons, I just need to be more prepared in advance of the lesson in order to be able to take advantage of this.

I will also check out Voki, what2learn and goanimate and let you know how I get on.

We’ve also started playing Scrabble but with mixed results so far. I’m hoping a lesson on the origins of the game and the rules will help to catch their imagination. Speaking of which I best go plan their lesson for this evening!

16 08 2011
mariainesbrumana

Hi! Why don´t you follow Nik Peachey? He´s amazing. Here´s a link to one of his posts. You´ll love him. http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/2008/05/games-with-purpose-and-social-network.html
= )

18 08 2011
mcneilmahon

Hi Maria Ines,

Many thanks for the suggestion. Nik’s blog is excellent, isn’t it? However, he does tend to simply suggest applications that you can use rather than actual activities. I’m hoping to be able to share actual activities and complete lessons that teachers can take straight into the classroom – hope you like them…

18 08 2011
mariainesbrumana

Looking foward to actual activities. = )

18 08 2011
mcneilmahon

You can find them here, Maria Ines: https://amuseamuses.wordpress.com/category/loving-learning/lending-lessons/ in the lending lessons section of my blog. There’s only a few lessons there at the moment, but I hope to build them up over the next few weeks and months. Would love to hear what you think of them and how useful you think they’ll be for members of Prefesores y Academias http://www.facebook.com/groups/135856743151641/

25 08 2011
B2 / C1 Scrabble reading lesson – the history, the rules, the scoring « A Muse Amuses

[…] the Facebook episode I’ve been looking at different ways of using Facebook with my students and one suggestion […]

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