Catching up – reflections on classroom blogging

I just finished reading an article by Aaron Campbell about approaches to classroom blogging. In it he describes 2 different approaches, the ‘crack the whip’ approach and the ‘facilitator’ approach.  Teaching styles described by Indiana State University go even further describe 4 different teaching styles.
This has led me to consider my own approach to blogging. There is one class that I regularly use blogging with – a class of adults who need to pass the CAE exam.
There are no grades outside the exam, and I expect the students to participate actively. My first aim was to get them acquainted with blogging. To do this, I had each person summarize the lesson on the blog. After showing them how it was done, they could choose to post their summaries themselves, send them to me for correction first, or e-mail them to me to post.
I suppose this is a bit of a ‘crack the whip’ approach.
Almost everyone contributed in some way, a result of the expectations from me and the others in the class who already had posted. There was also discussion about the usefulness of these posts, the resulting discussion showing that those who missed a lesson or more appreciated these summaries, and the others had to admit that it was a chance for them to reflect on the lesson and practice writing.

The second step was to have them introduce themselves to a future guest and ask this person a couple of questions. Nearly everyone sent their introductions, and half of them were posted directly by the students. The motivation to post to someone whom they would afterwards meet was highly motivating. This would be a successful mixture of facilitation and whip.

In between I offered topics in the form of texts and videos for the others to comment on, with sparce contributions.
Now one of the students is spending a month in another country. I asked her to send the class a message – which she did as e-mail, and encouraged the others to comment. There was only one comment for a while, but after a short discussion about how motivating it is to be answered, and a reminder that some of them would also shortly be away, the number of discussions went up a little bit, and I hope more will comment the next time one of the students sends a greeting. Here I tried to be a good model and motivator.

Time will tell if the last model was successful, but it seems to me that a clear framework, first an introduction, then a motivating and intrinsic factor can lead to increased use of the blog as a means of communicating with each other. I hope that at some point the interaction will move from being teacher-led to student-led interaction. However, if students are new to blogging and this form of communication, there will be some whip-cracking necessary, a clear raison d’ être, and motivational pay-backs.

My vision for the future is that my students will show more openness towards possibilities of communicating through blogging, that they will take the initiative in discussions, that they will perhaps even be interested enough to start their own blogs and begin their own discussions. I would like my students to find their voice and project it.

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4 Responses

  1. Nice entry Illya!
    I think it’s interesting to adapt and analyse “approaches” and your class example shows how one may well lead into another.
    I think allowing room for this kind of development is essential and your story shows the first signs of success😉 When learners start to feel peer-presence then I feel they also start to experiment and find voice. I sometimes think that it is not just a question of finding “their voice” but making one of the many inner voices they may have public.
    In a foreign language, with added strain on feared assessment (however much we insist it isn’t “written work” it will take many months for them to accept that there are no strings attached ;-)), and the permancy and archive factor of postings.
    I think your point about taking intitiative is really important. That comes when they begin to take authorship of the environment and can get creative.
    I think that your example of the student away shows how a real need for communication can spark interaction – I have found that’s something which is not always easy to re-create when they meet regularly face-to-face.
    Lovely entry, thanks for sharing these refelctions🙂
    Valentina

  2. Very true, Illya, sometimes students need a little push (or a big one) to find something that makes sense and that can benefit them and give them some freedom. I think the example of your student who will be away is an excellent way of getting them to open up to someone who is not f2f and from there start blogging.
    I suppose the projects in EVO blogging that have been most successful have been those that involved groups of students learning English in different countries or even places of the same country. That distance is a motivating factor to communicate on line, especially when we want to exchange cultural information, even if living in the same country, don´t you think?
    I have also got used to your face and voice, didn´t you record a hilarious video about coffee and croissants a couple of months ago?
    Well, take care, cheers, Berta

  3. Hello Illya,

    I am an EFL teacher in Buenos Aires teaching Cambridge courses too. I like the way you blog about your CAE class. I would very much like to read the CAE blog you mention in this post.

    Perhaps you can drop me a comment in my teacher’s blog ELT Notes, I have just included a link there to this great post.
    http://eltnotes.blogspot.com/2007/04/eslefl-wikis.html

    Thank you.

    All best,

    Claudia
    (fceblog on del.icio.us)

  4. Now this is just great! I have just found out via the above link how much I have in common with you, Claudia, as well as others🙂
    I’ve dropped by and had a look, now I’ll go ‘connect’😉
    Illya

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