Standing in line recently in a convenience store in Houston, Texas, I overheard the following dialogue referring to the credit card apparatus so prevalent at cashier stations today:
-No, man. You must have green one first.
-Ah, thank you very much. I think is no work!
-Oh! Ha ha, is green first, then next.
-OK, thanks, man.
I realized that these two men, who were obviously English Language Learners, were able to effectively communicate and help each other. As an ESL teacher, I am constantly noticing this type of exchange. Of course this dialogue is nothing exceptional in any ESL/EFL classroom across the globe. However, this particular conversation started a wave of guilt regarding my vow to begin a blog in my high school classroom whereby my students could assist and respond to each other’s writings. The previous year I had created a blog only to see it lie dormant, or used as an alternative assignment replacement. I have long wanted another medium for publishing student writings, a medium that was more timely and in sync with today’s online-interconnected culture, something living. In the ESL field, we know the value of student-to-student writing and assistance. We also agree that the more comprehensible exposure to second language input, the better. A class blog could be the answer to these needs.
A blog has the potential to keep students current, online, and in touch with our fast-paced interconnected digital culture. Joyce Armstrong Carroll states in Acts of Teaching, “Listening, speaking, reading, writing, computing, and collaborating will form the basic requirements of literacy, along with presenting skills and oral communication”. In conjunction with reading and oral practice, my students need to be proficient in computer skills and familiar with the accompanying jargon to compete in a global society. While they have worked and collaborated on internet projects and research, I didn’t feel that this was enough. Blogging seemed like a good start, and I had hopes that it would provide more individualized instruction, offer more opportunities for reading in English, and inject some fun and enthusiasm into homework assignments. Furthermore, as Jon Schwartz states, “Blogs helped us foster a sense of community and bridge cultural and technological gaps with English Language Learners and their families”. In surveying other educators’ practices and gathering advice on the matter, I found a wealth of information and advice on blogging which certainly provoked more thorough consideration and planning than I had previously thought. As Sue Waters describes it, “It’s also about reading others posts, taking time to comment on their posts (in meaningful ways), engaging with your readers by commenting back when they leave comments—being a good blog citizen.”
Regarding initial setup and benefits, I have found several experts to rely on for information. Daniela Munco has created a slide presentation introducing her students to blogs in “Creating a blog – Activity for ESL students” by first explaining what a blog is, how to set up a Google account and individual weblog. Then she offers a self-check of the information and an assignment for students to complete. Finally, she gives them a checklist to see that their work is acceptable. Her slideshow will be helpful in introducing my students to terminology and purpose.
Several articles on classroom blogging mention the concern and challenges regarding internet safety. Schwartz stated that blogging “gave them some valuable technical skills and lessons in digital citizenship.” Responsible blogging and posting are serious considerations, and given the ongoing references we hear frequently in the news regarding gaffes and insults adult celebrity stars and politicians can make, it is only appropriate that we prepare our students for this arena. Who better to teach this new aspect of writing than the instructor of language? In addition, we high school teachers hear complaints often about bullying, gossip, and inappropriate comments. Cyber-bullying has appeared as a new term in our news posts. In a post entitled “Blogging in the ESL classroom” the following useful guidelines were offered:
ESL Classroom: Blogging GuidelinesAs a blogger, you are expected to follow these blogging guidelines below. Use the questions in italics to help you decide what is appropriate to post on your blog.
Only post things that you would want everyone (at the university, at home, in other countries) to know.
Ask yourself: Is this something I want everyone to see?
Do not share personal information.
Ask yourself: Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?
Think before you post.
Ask yourself: What could be the consequences of this post?
Know who you’re communicating with.
Ask yourself: Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?
Consider your audience.
Ask yourself: Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?
Know how to give constructive feedback.
Ask yourself: What will I cause by writing this post?
Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Ask yourself: Would I want someone to say this to me?
Use appropriate language and proper grammar and spelling.
Ask yourself: Would I want this post to be graded for proper grammar and spelling?
Only post information that you can verify is true (no gossiping).
Ask yourself: Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?
Anytime you use media from another source, be sure to properly cite the creator of the original work.
Ask yourself: Who is the original creator of this work?
As listed by “Blogging in the ESL classroom”
Another expert on blogging with ESL classes, Aaron Patric Campbell, discusses three types of blogs: the tutor blog, the learner blog, and the class blog (“Weblogs for Use with ESL Classes”). For my students, the tutor blog appears most user-friendly for a start. Campbell notes that this type of blog:
- Gives additional reading practice
- Promotes exploration of English websites
- Encourages online verbal exchange
- Provides class or syllabus information
- Serves as a resource of links for self-study
From reading these benefits, I am hoping that a class blog will only accelerate my students’ language acquisition in the areas of reading and writing, and hopefully, will help solidify the connection between the two skills.
Since the aspects of choice and authentic audience are inherent in blogging, I suspect that student engagement will increase as we move through the year. As Larry Ferlazzo of Sacramento states, “I’m a firm believer that technology is used best as a tool to deepen and develop face-to-face relationships.” Schwartz describes the growing engagement that his students experienced. “When my students started blogging, their creativity and productivity skyrocketed because they knew that their work had the potential to be viewed quickly by an authentic audience that mattered to them.”
I now look forward to the upcoming school year and plan to introduce blogging in a step-by-step manner, laying out terms and definitions, a student contract with parental permission, tips and examples from the above-mentioned established examples before moving into non-threatening introductory assignments and finally reader response coupled with peer support.
Since a blog also serves as a resource for what has been said and done, I look forward to reporting my findings both positive and negative.
This is a guest article by Donna Curtis. She has over 25 years of experience teaching ESL, and this is a topic that has long interested her. Currently she is teaching high school in Houston, Texas, and her students were enthusiastic regarding the suggestion of a classroom blog.