Keen on Membean

By Lucas Bricca, Staff Writer

Just the word “Membean” is enough to get any Los Altos student groaning. From it’s perception as a waste of time, to it’s new feature enabling teachers to see how engaged students are using it, Membean is one of the most publicly disliked parts of any Los Altos student’s education. However, Membean’s website can help students learn new and relevant words using an interactive interface and learning tailored to the student’s existing vocabulary. It is one of the most easily accessible available to teachers, however it is far underutilized at Los Altos because students can’t take it seriously.

Since becoming a writing tutor, I can see why English teachers struggle to keep up vocabulary building with students. Students see Membean as a waste of time – I often see them just skim through just to get credit. Many don’t see the real-world benefit of the program, and only a small number of students actually use the program for their own good. Some teachers promote Membean anyways: “We’re doing the kids a disservice [by not assigning Membean]” said one English teacher, who sees it as beneficial “even if it’s just exposing them to the words.”

The ability to effectively and intelligently convey ideas—in essays or just casual discussion— ultimately boils down to vocabulary. And while critical thinking skills to generate and organize these ideas can be taught in class, the issue of putting these thoughts on paper is often neglected. Being an effective communicator is a skill that takes time to develop, and one that very few students actively better. Essays give students time and a thesaurus, so they can look up as many synonyms as they please. But vocabulary is more than having access to the Internet. It’s having those words that are just right and incorporating them into everyday conversation that will make them second nature. Besides, being able to concisely communicate ideas is not only confined to writing a good essay. Job interviews, standardized tests, and general credibility are undoubtedly boosted with a strong vocabulary. No matter what you choose to do with your future, a little vocabulary can go a long way.

Furthermore, recent studies have concluded that teachers should move away from traditional methods like simple vocab lists and toward more innovative ways of teaching (Journal of Education and Literacy Studies) including reciting, reading and listening to words. (Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal) Membean fits all of these criteria, and while there are other viable options—reading, for example—most students don’t have time to read for pleasure. Programs like Membean must be enforced by teachers, or else students’ vocabulary will simply remain stagnant.

Despite student complaints, Membean is by far one of the most interactive websites that caters to students’ different learning styles and needs, and it’s not a demanding commitment either. Thirty minutes per week is not much to ask, and students can learn whenever it’s convenient. Since sixth grade, I have been assigned Membean for almost every English class, and while I certainly can’t say I loved every minute of it, I can say it’s been one of the most beneficial programs for my writing ability. Membean provides the perfect opportunity for students to easily boost their vocabulary, and not using this program neglects resources.  I’ve done my share of complaining, but looking back, I would have greatly benefitted from doing more. If students gave Membean a chance, the real world application would become clear and students would see really how versatile and practical Membean really is.