I’ve noticed the Blog Carnival before, but never in a timely fashion… today is the expiry date on Carnival #39 — Blogging with Students, and it’s also the expiry date on my winter vacation, so I thought I’d sum up some findings/learning on the topic that I’ve posted about here over the past year, and contribute this piece to the carnival.
What Do We Mean by ‘Blogging’?
Firstly, I want to expand the key term here to include extended ‘Networked Web 2.0 Posting’, as I think even those of us who do a fair amount of blogging would concede that even Facebook, Google+, and Comments sections of others’ posts provide opportunities similarly afforded by blogs. But not to quibble — let’s just get to it and I think we’ll mostly agree that this post belongs in this carnival.
My ‘Blogging’ History with Students
Similar to Lizzie Pinard at Reflections of an English Language Teacher, 1 year ago I added a password-protected sub-domain on this site for a group of low-intermediate 1st-year University writing students to blog their homework and other tasks on. I described the pros and cons of several of these lessons in the posts with ‘Experiments’ in their titles.
I saw parallels and more interesting interactive possibilities in Google+ communities, which my faculty team had been using for several years with Teacher Trainees, so in the fall of last year I set my Speaking & Discussion class up in a G+ community, and I will argue that they did very little there that couldn’t have been done on a ‘traditional’ blog, only more easily and often, arguably, authentically. I wrote a couple of posts about them, too.
While maybe outside the frame of this carnival, I’ll also sum up blogging activity I’ve been coordinating for three or four years on a CELTA-like Teacher Development course I created for ‘near-native’ uncertified English teachers.
On the Writing Class’s Blogging
Most importantly, with two exceptions (out of 18), who I believe would have been exceptions in any scenario, student feedback about the technology used in class (which included Twitter, and any devices they chose to bring to class or use at home) was extremely positive and of a sort I hadn’t seen for awhile. Namely, with no prompting from me, (and I’m paraphrasing from memory now), in typing, responding to others, organizing texts for outside readers, developing narrative story-telling skills, etc., students understood and valued that they were developing useful real-life English-use skills. There is no question that motivation and focus was higher, as a result.
Secondly, in planning for students to produce projects to the blog for all of them to see, we all were encouraged to leave the textbook behind and I in particular was encouraged to turn all tasks into ‘communicative’ ones. So, for example, in the early going, covering the mandatory ‘introductions/describing people’ part of the syllabus, students took pictures of a partner, came up with four questions they wanted to ask the partner, conducted interview/extended conversations in class, and began to compose a profile post of their partner. These were then finished and polished and posted to the blog, from which I created a ‘find someone who’ reading safari for students to scan the output, and we played a variation on the ‘who am I describing’ game, using the students’ pictures. I consider this kind of “just in time” updating of my task-planning dependent on the technology we use/exploit.
So, in sum — the gains for both my students and myself are observable and somewhat measurable. Please see the more detailed posts linked to above for specifics.
On the Speaking/Presentation Class’s Google+ Community Blogging
We used the G+ Community primarily for students to record video posts (usually possible as an option on the status update window) for themselves, me, and others to reflect on. This could easily be done on a more traditional ‘blog’, which is why I consider this akin to blogging. In public (within the private class-wide Community) commenting, I took care to emphasize communicative value as much or more so than accuracy. Students produced 6 or 7 video posts, none of which were scripted, though speaking from notes was sometimes allowed. After the first two, I turned the choice of content for the course over to them, and as in the previous semester found myself devising semi- to completely -authentic tasks based on those content choices, which students would then occasionally wrap-up by videoblogging. I informally encouraged them to listen and respond to each other online in written comments, but this was not a terribly popular suggestion.
Their final two tasks were to discuss their progress and reflect on what they had learned both in class and online (and to justify the grade they wanted me to give them), and to offer me two compliments and two suggestions for the course. I’ll save summing up the latter task for my general conclusions below, but the 1st task, while not anonymous, revealed that with regard to video blogging, in general they were very happy to have observed specific areas of growth in their presentation skills, after starting the blogging quite apprehensively. They found that they were inspired to improve their own skills by watching their classmates attempts of the same tasks. Furthermore, they valued reflecting together on their posts in class (in pairs with their smartphones) and then recording the next post with those reflections in mind.
On the Teacher Trainees’ Blogging and Google+ Community
Up to now, this course has utilized 1. A class blog on Blogger for responses to homework reading questions; 2. Individual student-created Blogger or WordPress blogs for a) written and videoed reflection on teaching and b) development of Web 2.0 tech literacy skills; & 3. a Google+ community for course-related discussion, questions, and sharing, and notifications.
The elements certainly kept the once-a-week class very lively between sessions, and students almost universally are very happy with the tech component, even if some of them are forced to do some quick ramping-up of skills. The weekly blogging task was the most often utilized and communicative of the 3. A few students made almost no use of the Community, and the reading homework was generally just a homework obligation of which I may have been the only reader.
Conclusions, Problems & Limitations of Different Kinds of Blogging
1. Feedback The suggestions for me from students in the first two groups is quite justified, and has resulted in my own goal for this semester, which I wrote about here. Students value and need feedback on their output, and while I place a great deal of value on just the act of their output production, I have to find a way to give more individual feedback of higher quality than I managed last year — there was simply too much output, and too little time. This semester I am considering using much more of the actual in-class time for individual conferencing/consulting with me, while the rest of the class is (I hope) collaborating on tasks that will ultimately be published between classes. Furthermore, I’ll need to comment more efficiently and consistently on their work. To this end, my students’ ‘blogging’ development may be to a Google Drive folder, and Google docs sharing for some assignments, so that I and others can respond inline.
2. Tech hassle It’s going to take the first week and some careful modelling planning to get most EFL learners up and running on the platforms I choose. After that, there will always be one student whose phone is ‘lowbat’ and whose charger is broken, even here in Korea. C’est la vie, but this does require flexibility and open-mindedness on the part of the teacher. Classes are invariably, and necessarily messier. I view this as a good thing.
3. Consolidate platforms Given the inherent messiness described immediately above, it also follows that every ‘site’ where students need to loosely ‘blog’ is a potential site of collapse… and that it is probably prudent for an instructor to consolidate tech/blogging resources. For example, I’ve learned that in the Google+ community, I can use the ‘Categories’ feature as a means to organize reading and writing tasks, and to group students, and hashtags for e.g., discussion/writing threads. So, when students ‘blog’ a narrative, they will file it in a category and add an agreed-upon hashtag to is (a sub-category, in effect), and then all of us will be able to look at just those stories when responding to them, either for peer-editing or for pleasurable consumption!. In the case of the Trainees, their individual blogs can be linked to from the Community’s main page, and hashtags means that weekly reading responses can be posts in categorized by week, with a hashtag like #weeklyreading. At the end of the semester I can search on just that hashtag and then an individual student to double-check homework submission by each student, eliminating the need for the class blog. This should help to turn the Community into a more visited, better-organized site.