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Turn teen texting toward better writing

Teachers who co-opt Web tools for class have the best of both worlds.

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Parents who have struggled to tear a teenager away from Facebook or detach one from texting know that teens increasingly communicate through writing. But how can educators help students carry that motivation for writing from a social world into motivation for writing that will serve them in the classroom? The answer is for teachers to venture into the digital world of "screenagers" and find productive ways to bring social media into the classroom.

The potential of bridging these realms is supported by a new report on teens, technology, and writing by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the College Board. Researchers found that informal writing is an integral part of youth culture: 85 percent of teens communicate through digital writing. Teenagers also overwhelmingly understand the importance of good writing: 86 percent of teens consider formal writing skills essential to future success.

What's exciting is that many teachers have already begun to venture to the far shore in order to build bridges with their students. They are using interactive Web tools such as blogs, podcasts, and wikis in an attempt to mirror the online social networks of youth culture. These teachers are finding that students respond enthusiastically to the opportunity to collaborate, the challenge of publishing for an audience, and the chance to contribute to a learning community, rather than just write for a teacher's binder. (The website Edublogawards.com showcases the best of these learning environments.)

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