Monday, April 24, 2006

Reflections T1, 2006 (Emily)

I have come away from this term feeling less than satisfied with the blogging experience. I think there have been a number of contributing factors but I think the one that is probably concerning me the most was the lack of "buy in" by the students this term.

This term we used the blogs as an assessed part of their coursework/portfolio. This meant that much of the process was teacher driven - do this, do that - and I think the fact that it was assessed meant that the students didn't take ownership of their individual blogs. I am aware that there are a number of authors out there who completely disagree with assessing blogs and wouldn't be surprised with the above observations. In the past I have really enjoyed getting to know my students. Obviously I see them almost everyday and start to get to learn about their families, what they do, what they are interested in but with the blogs, in the past, students have often told me about things that don't usually come up in everyday classroom conversations.

Next term, term 2, I plan to again use blogs as part of their coursework but work hard on reminding students that it is their personal space. I also like Karen's idea of pictures and comments and might use pictures instead of questions when teaching students to comment in the hope that I get more language. I'm still very interested in how students "talk" through their blogs too and will keep an eye on the apparant awareness of a reading audience.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Reflection T1 2006

This term I wanted to use pictures more effectively on my blog. I decided to have a Picture Post for each week, where students had to comment with one sentence on a photo. At the end of the week someone (me, my family, my colleagues, a friend overseas, a student volunteer) would pick the comment or two that they liked best. This worked reasonably well, although some pictures generated more language than others. Hard though to generalise as to what made the picture successful. Discussing it in class helped in terms of vocab that they might use. As did class time in the lab to write (especially initially).

Students were happy to send me photos to put on so everyone could see (eg. of BBQ, of students who had left) and I also used more photos eg. of community events.

Students generally (in focus group discussion) seemed to realise that you could write about whatever you wanted on the blog, which was the other thing that I pushed. I tried to tie it in to the workbook and give suggestions. Noriko and Peter in particular, enjoyed writing about their experiences.

Areas to improve on next time
  • Get students to comment more
  • Teach them how to add photos/sound
  • Show them bloglines at the beginning of the term (I did at the end!)
  • Make sure they get comments on their blog emailed to them (settings)

One suggestion (Peter) was that they all have access to the class blog to write on, which was exactly what I wanted to do, but felt that we didn't have enough time. Also there needed to be a purpose - task related and I felt that they were overburdened with coursework as it was.

Maybe next term - a wiki where they can write comments about how they feel and what they have learned over the term in relation to the project. Or would this go better on a blog?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Welcome

Hopefully by now you know what a blog is, know a little bit about what we’ve been up to and are rearing to give it a go!
If you want to have a look at what we’ve been doing ……then have a look around and read this blog. You can either scroll your way down and read the bits that you are interested in or you can click on the links in the side bar here on the right to go directly to them. Also in the side bar you will find links to our class blogs and a few other blogs that may be of interest (we found them interesting!).
If you want to get started …… we have copies of the worksheets so you can work through them and design your own blog ready to use with your own students.
We would love your feedback please click on comments and tell us what you think.

What we do with blogs

Perhaps the most difficult thing we have found is convincing students that their blog is their space and for them to write on it what they want! We believe that it's all about ownership!

In class time we try to do the following-:

  • support students as they use blogs. This includes helping them to set up their first blog and get used to the different functions they have access to. As needed, we show them how to put in links, add photos or soundfiles and manage formatting, as well as the settings and template tabs.
  • focus on interaction. One way has been Emily's 'blog surfing' activity - a variation on the Find someone who... activity, where students have a list of questions and have to find the answers on each other's blogs. We actively focus on getting them to read and comment on each other's blogs, and have extended that to looking at other EFL class blogs (both in Unitec and overseas) and getting them to read and then comment on other students' blogs. A good place to find partners for this sort of exchange is at Dekita. The next step is to find what they are interested in and see if there are blogs available in their interest areas in English.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reflection at beginning of 2006

At the end of 2005, I looked back at the way that I had used blogs through the year (a whole year!) with my students. Highlights for me were

  • students writing on topics that they chose
  • interaction between us through the blog
  • the chance to communicate even when NOT at Unitec eg. students who had left the class and for me as a part-time teacher when not at work
  • students discovering new things to do on blogs and then teaching me how!
  • interviewing students and finding out what they thought about blogs
  • writing my own blog - any task I set the students, I tried to do myself
  • finding other teachers excited by blogging and its potential

Things to exploit in 2006

  • the power of photos
  • creative and personal input
  • audio files (and foray into podcasting?!)

Have been challenged by Aaron's article on Start with student passion!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reflections T4, 2005 (Emily)

This terms use of blogs has been minimal at best. This term, due to factors outside of the classroom I chose to take a different approach with the blogs. I took an active role at the beginning of term in order to help students create their own blogs and to identify those students in the class who had had blogging experience in the past. It turned out that about half my class had blogged the previous term so I asked them to act as mentors for the newer students. As later arrivals came to class I handed them the worksheets and asked them to work with a classmate to set up their blog. Throughout the term I asked students to write different pieces and suggested that they may want to put them on their blogs. Most students preferred to hand write a first draft then blog the final copy later. However, for the most part of the term I chose not to take a very active role in asking students to post work or reminding them to post work.

If students wrote anything on their blog I would correct it, using the correction code, and hand it back usually within 24 hours. A few students took advantage of this and would look at the corrections and ask me about them the next day after they had had a chance to make the corrections themselves to check that they understood why the draft had been incorrect.

At the end of term there was a flurry of activity which can possibly be attributed to the need for the Intermediate students to provide 3 pieces of written work from throughout the term for part of their final coursework mark. Each piece of writing had to be accompanied by a draft which had to have been corrected by the teacher(s) prior to the last week of term.

It was interesting to note this term the lack of blog personalities that had been present the previous term. The previous term saw one student very keen to show his peers what could be done with the technology and one student who made a consistent effort every night to comment on other students blogs which in turn encouraged his classmates to do the same making for a very interactive and social classroom atmosphere. Students in class often talked to each other about what they had read on each others blogs the next day, asking for clarification or as a way to start a conversation.


Plans for 2006
Put coursework online by using blogs as a presentation tool this will possibly change the nature of the blog due to it now being part of the assessment (15% of overall mark)
Encourage more discussion of postings in class (as suggested by students???)
Re-introduce the ‘Let’s surf the blogs’ worksheet early in the term to encourage the idea of writing for an audience and to encourage students to interact through reading (and eventually commenting on) each others blogs.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Interested in reading about blogs?

Here are some articles/presentations about using blogs for language learning.

Barrios, B. (2003) The year of the weblog

Campbell, A. (2003) Suggestions for using blogs in three different ways

Johnson, A. (2004) Creating a writing course using blogs

Dieu, B. (2004) Blogging and presence online

Duber, J. (2005) Media blog


Want to know more about RSS and aggregates? Read

Richardson, W. (2004) RSS: A quick start guide for educators

and then check out Bloglines for an easy way to set up your own feeds.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Current conclusions

Very positive!

On the whole we think that teachers and students alike enjoyed the blogging experience. It is definitely a fantastic opportunity for students to be able to authentically communicate with a wider audience. Students are no longer only writing for their teacher but for an audience. Being on the internet anyone could potentially read what they have written as well as their classmates having links to each others blogs.

Students believed that blogging helped their writing in terms of improving their grammar and vocabulary but they also felt that their reading improved through being exposed to other people’s blogs. In the focus groups students spoke about learning vocabulary and grammar structures from reading other peoples blogs.

For teachers it is also a fantastic opportunity to learn too. Blogger is constantly updating with new advances in technology and students are usually more than keen to show us how to use them. For example, when we started blogging you had to use a different website to upload photos whereas now it is as easy as clicking the icon and uploading directly from your computer – trust us much easier!

I think for us as teachers too this experience has been great because we are able to step back a bit and take more of a facilitators role. Once students know how to create a blog it is their decision as to which direction the blog takes. It is up to them how much (or how little since this was not assessed) they post. Students were able to take control in an authentic communicative situation with a genuine audience – what more could we ask for?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Who uses blogs?

Surveys completed in recent months by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that almost a fifth of teens who have access to the Web have their own blogs. And 38 percent of teens say they read other people's blogs.
By comparison, about a tenth of adults have their own blogs and a quarter say they read other people's online journals.

Irvine, M. (2005) Blogs can come back to bite you in The San Diego Union Tribune Associated Press

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Uses for blogs

The value of blogs lies in being

  • a diary/journal record
  • able to link to other sites on the internet
  • able to read and reflect on what others have written
  • an easy way in to having your own website

Obviously, the way that you use a blog is tailored to the needs and interests of your learners. Bearing this in mind, here are a few of the ways we have seen blogs in use.

  • Students put up lyrics of songs/poems they like and explain why
  • Students write about things that are important to them eg. sports, their family
  • Mystery guest - students have to guess who the mystery guest is online
  • Students review a language learning website
  • To support collaborative activity ie. share the workload and put your work on blog so all can see

You're only limited by your imagination...

Looking back (Term 2, 2005)

Luckily, this term was much, much better than last term. Not only did I have a wonderful class full of motivated learners but I managed to stay with them all term so we were able to gather a bit of momentum.

The students were very studious and hardworking but thankfully they were ready to try new things and were generally quite enthusiastic about using blogs. Of course some of them used them to a greater extent than others. I had 2 students who would produce work in the class lab time only to not publish it or delete it later (!!!) so this unfortunately left them with blank blogs at the end of the term. Fortunately most students were actually quite proud of what they had written and often went back to edit out any errors or mistakes that they had made.

But I’m getting ahead of myself ……so back to the beginning. Setting up the blog itself didn’t present any problems for those who followed the worksheet. I made this very explicit at the beginning and it was good to see the students helping each other out. One thing that I hadn’t thought of in this day and age of so much technology was that one of the students didn’t have an email account and to use blogger one must have an email address (note to self: make sure students have email account before starting class).

Unfortunately I was all excited about moving the blogs onto the next step only to find that the internet was down (arrrgghh!). The students, however, were keen to keep blogging so pleaded to stay and see if the system can back up. Alas no such luck so it was back to the classroom. The good thing about this was that it showed me that the students were keen to try blogging and that it was not only fun for me but also for them. They got quite a buzz out of seeing their own work available on the net.

The next lesson was much better and we worked on making comments and editing our previous blogs. This fitted in as great revision for question forms. I gave students a question word and they had to write an question that they wanted to know the answer to ie; if they got the word what then “What is your name?” was not an appropriate question as the posting would tell you that information. I posted a question on the blog that pertained to a reading that we had done the day before in class about learning vocabulary and all students had to answer it before posting their own questions.

With these tools under their belt they were given free rein as to what they wanted to post on their blogs. Interestingly most students choose to write about what they had done during the holidays, weekend, etc. One student commented that even though she was good friends with one of her classmates she had learnt a lot more about her through reading her blog.

I guess the most positive thing for me to come out of this blogging experience this term is that ALL of the students who created a blog said that they planned to continue blogging next term.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Karen's Reflections (Term 2 2005)

This term I have felt more satisfied with my students blogs. There has been more involvement with the whole concept of blogging, driven especially by three students who have put up photos and audio files on to their blogs. Admire Sabrina's photos and paintings and enjoy Shawn's and Cathy's taste in music.
These captured the interest of the rest of the class. The amount of writing that students has done has also been more than last term. This may well reflect a more mature attitude in general towards their learning. A number of students have written on their own topics, although they still say they like me to set a topic.

As well, my focus on communication has paid off. Students have commented freely on each other's work (time given for this in the lab helps!) Posting questions on the class blog and teaching them how to comment has been of value.

The class blog I largely used to give them writing tasks as homework each weekend (our lab time was on Friday morning each week). Each task I modelled on my own blog. I also posted sample sentences/paragraphs using the vocab list for that week. It was nice having the opportunity to revisit words in this way, and I worked hard at giving students useful chunks of vocab - this related to what we were doing in class with more of a lexical focus.

For me, one of the things I have enjoyed this term is the students actually teaching me to do things on the blog. Also the comments they have made and the authentic interaction created in this way. Their evident enthusiasm for blogging - and their request for 'more time please in the lab' has been encouraging. They seem (in questionnaire and interview) quite convinced that blogging has helped their language learning.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Structure

We came up with a structure (which has been flexible but we have basically stuck to this order):
Week 1
Introduction: Students set up personal blog(in class) and email the link to the teacher. Teacher to set up a class blog with links to all students blogs (after class)
Week 2
Editing: Show students how to make changes to previous posts (in class). Homework to correct first posting.
Communication (Respond): Students to write one question and post on their blog (in class). Students to access peer blogs and use the comment function to answer the question (in class – to be finished out of class).
Week 3-8
5Rs (Respond, Reflect, Review, Rave, Rant)
Class 1: To do autonomously throughout term choosing between any of the 5Rs (Emily)
Class 2: Follow the 5Rs systematically through tasks set by the teacher (Karen)
Week 9
Review: Students to look at the other classes blogs and to comment.
Questionnaire. Survey

It's a new beginning (Term 2, 2005)

Karen and I are excited with the prospect of blogging with our classes. We decided that we needed to be a bit more organised and at least have a more structured approach to how we use blogs in the classroom.

Both Karen and I had used blogs on our own trips away in 2004 (Karen to India and me to Chile) and had found them to be a useful way to tell our adventures and thoughts to a large audience. Blogs are great because they are authentic in that if you post something on your blog it is there for other people to read. Often in classrooms we ask students to write things that are only intended to be read by their teacher so we decided that we would introduce blogs as a way of providing students with a larger authentic audience.

Since we were planning on using our students to test our approaches and ideas for using blogs to help students improve their English we had to get ethics approval. Ethics approval was relatively straight forward and after a few minor changes we have approval to start asking students what they think of blogs, blogging in general and how they think blogs can and do improve their language learning.

Why didn't it work?? (Term 1, 2005)

Found myself sharing a lovely class with 2 other teachers. I only taught these students on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning for a total of 4 hours. Despite such a short time with them I felt that we bonded well and that they were happy to try to "things" (well most of them anyway!).

In the second week of term I took the class into the lab and introduced them to BLOGGING. Most of them caught on quickly. The task was to create a blog account and then to introduce themselves (to the world) via a blog posting. As usual there were some fantastic entries and some that were, well, not so fantastic, in fact some were non-existant!

Anyway, all students were able to create an account so I linked all of their blogs to a posting on our main class blog. One particular student did a fabulous job of adding to her blog on almost a daily basis. She was a very bright student and was highly motivated. In class she was often quite shy but with the use of blogs she seemed to feel less inhibited. She had no additional guidance insofar as what blogs can and are used for but she started with basic journal type entries and went on to practice descriptive writing and to review a reader that she had been reading.

Unfortunately due to a sudden unexpected growth in numbers in our programme I had to leave this class and teach another group of students so I was not able to encourage students to continue with their use of blogs. This resulted in all of the blogs staying dormant!! Arrrrggghhh!!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Term 1 2005

I used this class blog with my intermediate students this term, but it basically 'just grew' rather than me planning it at the beginning of the term. My aim was to experiment with the medium and see what 'worked' with my students.

At the end of the term, I reflected on what the blog consisted of. The main purpose of blogging had been to encourage students’ ownership of learning, but I found that what I'd really enjoyed was the chance to communicate with my students in a different place. The postings could be divided into three general headings - examples of each given below.

Class blog
· Communication - This included information about the course and also about events in the community that students might enjoy, homework set and answers given, responding to questions that students asked in class giving more detailed examples than I had been able to off the cuff.
· Use of Internet - Suggestions of websites that students might find interesting relating to course content, topics discussed in class, public holidays
· Affective value - A chance to build community, share each others' blog URLs, talk about myself and a place to put up photos.

For the students' own blogs, I felt the value had lain in
giving them a public place (with a class audience) in which to write, and encouraging them to make it their 'own' space. Informal feedback from students was very positive, with one student commenting 'this is the first time that I have written English for people to read'.

Things to improve next term?
· Student communication – focus on comments more, both to class blog and to each other's blogs
· Students' ownership of blog – move away from set topicsp>

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Initial blog encounters

When I first came across blogs mid 2004, I didn't know what to blog. Started one on Computer Mediated Communication, which was my then research interest, as a reflective place to write down my ideas and what I'd read. Found that I didn't really have the motivation to sustain it - possibly due to a lack of audience.

A workshop on how to blog at Unitec with Alan Levine (visiting from the States) was perfectly timed, as I was just about to go overseas for a month's trip over Christmas to Thailand and India, and this afforded a real opportunity for blogging. It was so easy to suggest that people went to my blog (Trip 2004) rather than constantly repeating myself in emails - and I was pleasantly surprised at the comments I got about the blog from my family and friends, which of course fuelled my urge to keep journalling about the trip.

Suggested to Emily, my colleague, who was going to Chile for work, that she blog her trip there as well, and I enjoyed reading her comments on her visit (Emily's trip), while I was travelling in India. Came home and talked with Emily about blog possibilities for our students...