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Teachers Leverage Digital Tools to Improve Teens' Writing

High school teachers use blogs and social networking in their lessons to enhance students’ writing.

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Texting and tweeting can actually help improve students’ writing and make life easier for teachers, according to a new report.
Texting and tweeting can actually help improve students’ writing and make life easier for teachers, according to a new report.

Digital communication is ingrained in the lives of high school students. Text messaging is typically their go-to mode of communication. Teens use Facebook to keep up with friends, and tweet about everything from YouTube videos to what they had for lunch.

While these mediums blur the lines between formal and informal communication, overall they have a net positive effect on high school students' writing skills, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.

Teens are more creative, collaborative and willing to share their work thanks to these digital tools, the report notes. The tools also make life easier for teachers.

[Discover ways to bring 21st century skills into high schools.]

Half of the nearly 2,500 teachers surveyed for the report say the Internet and digital tools make it easier for them to teach writing – particularly with tools like interactive whiteboards and blogs.

"Students take a closer look at their writing when they know that the audience will include their peers," wrote one of the teachers, whose students post their work to Raw Ink, an online community with close to 1,300 members that is hosted by students at Indiana's Silver Creek High School.

Blogs, discussion board posts, videos and photos posted to this site are seen by teachers, students and contributors from across the country, so students pay more attention to what they put on the site, the teacher noted.

The Pew survey tapped middle and high school teachers working primarily in public schools. Many of the educators lead honors or accelerated courses, and would be considered "leading edge teachers," according to the report.

Teachers reported having students edit their school's Wikipedia page, create online polls and collaborate on projects using Google Docs. Several of the teachers surveyed said they require students not only to blog, but to also give feedback to their peers via the blog's comment features. This creates an efficient feedback loop in which students feel comfortable weighing in on their classmates' work, the teachers noted.

[Learn how teachers can transition to project-based learning.]

Posting on a public forum also allows students to get input from outside the classroom, which can have a greater impact than hearing from their peers or teachers, one teacher noted.

"I had a student share that a pastor from somewhere in the country had commented on her blog. She was beyond ecstatic to read that someone thought her work was excellent," the teacher wrote. "I can and do tell her that all day long, but when she hears that from someone else, she is convinced."

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