Blogging the world

Sometimes things just seem to come together. At the moment I’ve got two projects going.

I was contacted by a teacher over in California with a request for collaboration. Now I have my 5th graders writing in English to other 5th graders in the States.

This is exactly how I imagine my kids learning English as a foreign language! It’s a great opportunity for the stronger ones, and a reason to concentrate on the accuracy, not just for good grades, but to get the message across to others. So far they are enjoying the adventure and already the two classes have discovered major differences in something as elementary and international as sports. Kids here in Switzerland know of baseball, but softball was a new word to them. On the other hand, handball is a common sport played among the youth, but not well known in the USA.  The school year just seems too short sometimes. I guess that is a good sign!

At the same time I’m preparing a blogging course together with my friend Jennifer for a group of teachers. Once again it will take place across the Atlantic, connecting Swiss and Argentinian teachers. This is a very exciting venture and I hope many will profit from the course long after it is officially over!

The classroom blog

Illya USA 014

Blogging is pretty easy to do and setting up a personal blog should pose no great hinderence to even the most computer-clumsy, but how can it be used for teaching?

There are many ways to use them, you can get the students up and blogging on their own, mash them together and all sorts of fun stuff. You can set up a blog with tasks and information for your students to use. Or you can get them all on the same blog sharing and communicating.

I have chosen the last possibility with my class of adults, one reason being that blogs seem to pose a mental barrier that is not easy to cross for many. The other reason is that I want my class to use it for real communication, as opposed to language practice.

It has taken me several classes of trail and error before I felt happy with the results, and I still am on that path of trail and error, but for those readers interested in using blogging as a supplement to what is going on in class, I will share what has worked for me, so that you may be spared at least some of the particularly bumpy beginning of the road.

Give clear instructions on how to use the blog and then allow time for troubleshooting in the next lesson or so.
And then explain again, even better, get them on the computer and let them try it with you standing by to hold their hand. Many people need this sense of security and will give up at the slightest hint of a problem. And here you need to be diligent and patient.

Give the blog importance from the very beginning.
My first time round I made the mistake of downplaying the role of hte blog, stressing that it was an addition, and that noone had to post to it.
Well, that didn’t work AT ALL! I still don’t make posting obligatory, but I do stress that this is where they can really use the language and that they SHOULD do it. I also offer to add anything to the blog that they don’t feel they could but would like to.

Give students clear and personal tasks to fulfill on the blog.
No tasks, no writing on it, especially at the beginning. I have found that asking students to make a personal comment on a topic we have been dealing with works quite well. However, since it is not obligatory, I must also accept that some will not contribute even with a very gripping topic and task. The chances are a lot better though, that they will.

Comment on every post a student makes and encourage them to comment as well.
Everyone wants to be heard, so make sure they feel they are. To get the students commenting on each other you might want to set further tasks. And ask them how they feel when there are comments- or not- on their post.

Set a good example.
If you want the students to write stories, about personal experiences or feelings, then make sure you do it as well. This supplies them with a model, on the one hand, and the sharing is two-way, builing stronger bonds in the classroom as a very pleasant side-effect.

Let the students decide what is corrected and what isn’t.
I clearly tell my students that I will correct nothing unless they specifically ask me to and send me the text. I am very clear about my reasons for this as well, otherwise they most certainly wouldn’t be accepted by my class (this may be different in your own). I explain that correcting is what happens insid ethe classroom and that when communicating, mistakes will happen. It takes a bit of courage to just write, and then just send it out onto the blog. It also creates more dynamic writing, and more of it. It is what real communication is about.

Get a special guest onto the blog.
This can be extremely motivating to share with someone outside of the class, maybe even with another class. Someone will be reading with interest and responding (hopefully) with more information, questions, etc, and THIS can generate a whole lot of very significant communication!

I’m sure that if I wracked my brain, I’d come up with more, but I think the ones above are enough here. Perhaps you can add to my list.
And if you’re interested in what my classblog looks like, here it is!

Accountability in teaching with technology

I was just reflecting on Ann’s comment on my last post about using the internet with children and it came ot me that about a year ago there was an incident. A primary school teacher had her kids go to the computer and there were sexually explicit pictures on the screen. The kids went home and told their parents, of course. The result was that this teacher, sho was in no way to blame (it was the school filter, I believe) was accused of wrong-doing, and if I remember correctly, taken to court. I lost the thread, so I don’t know the outcome, but I was pretty taken by the events.

If anyone remembers or can find the link, please leave a comment.

Social media = open media

Sarah mentioned on her blog the following:

Social Media is not part of my culture. To me, it only makes sense when I am participating in a closed environment where I know people – like in this class. The start and stop times, and the built-in time and place to get to know each other makes a difference for me. The concept of joining an ongoing conversation and social group is not something I am comfortable with…yet.

I am well aware of this feeling and it is certainly for each person to decide for themselves. I have also gone through this stage, and perhaps I am now not cautious enough about my presence on the internet. A lot of what I do has to do with trust in others who are also using these tools. Of course, you also have to be aware that everyting you say is documented and can be called up. This must have implications. I would say that this kind of openness can also promote politeness and a more selective choice of expressions.

When using these tools with younger pupils, this is also a topic that needs to be addressed. It is not something the youth worries about, and yet, it is an essential part of training, and I believe strongly that this is our jobs as educators.  They are most certainly unaware of the possible problems that an unreflected statement can have in their later lives.

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