Reflections on Widen your classroom with blogs

null The fours week blogging course has come to an end, and it’s time to reflect.
It has been an intensive four weeks and I’ve met a lot of friendly and very motivated people.

They have overcome problems and persevered to create their own space in the internet. It is easy  to forget how daunting that can.

And so I applaud all of you from the course who have taken the first step.

Of course, not everyone managed to create a blog and some dropped out of sight (site!). But this too is a natural phenomenon and not to be scoffed at or scolded. Perhaps the time wasn’t right, or perhaps a second start will be needed.
For those of you who couldn’t or didn’t carry on for whatever reason, I thank you for joining the course anyway and hope that you have been able to take with you something of it for a later point in time.

For those of you who have questioned whether using blogs for teaching and learning purposes (I stress the learning part!) is worth the time involved, I can assure you that this is a good question and worth exploring further.  What added value will a blog give your learners? The WOW effect? A new look for old methods?  Or can it induce a new kind of methodology, or simply an addition outside the classroom that wasn’t possible before?

I’m sure there will be those of you blogging about that as well, and I look forward to reading your discoveries and conclusions for in everything I teach I make sure that I am learning.

The changes in technology are continueous. As Jenny stated in the live session, you may become used to a certain tool and then suddenly find it gone or changed and have to set out to find another one. But it is nothing to be afraid of.  A teacher who cannot learn cannot truely teach.

I too have plodded on and tried this and that, asked for help, led the way and let others lead me, and so I am glad to have you join me on this journey as readers, writers, teachers, and acquaintances, making the world wide web a little smaller and bit more friendly.

Following comments

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Write to be read. This is why we write blogs.

But how do we know if we are being read? Well, you can go to your statistics page if your blog has one (WordPress does 🙂 ), or you can ask people you know if they have been reading your blog.

But the most powerful message you can send ot someone who has written something is to leave a comment. This is a sure sign that someone has read what you wrote and it moved them enough to say something about it. But now how do you know if someone commented on a comment? How do you allow for the wondeful situation when a conversation results from a single post?

Do you need to go back again and again to check? This might be okay for your own blog, but if it’s one that you chanced upon, this will prove to be extremely time-consuming, especially if you regularly leave comments on blogs and also if you follow a number of blogs.

There are a couple of possibilities so yocna be informed of further comments but don’t need to return countless times to check.

One way is to subscribe to the comments of a certain post. There is often this option and you will be sent an e-mail.

Another option involves a very small button at the bottom of your screen. Cocomment will let you know if someone commented on a post you’ve also commented on. It turns orange and all you have to do is click on it to quickly see whatthe discussion is about. Then you can choose to ignore it or delve deeper.

It’s little tools like this that make blogging easier and more satisfying!

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!