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Saturday, May 29, 2004

 
ESL Blogging Follow-up
In the past weeks, I've gotten some questions about how I used blogs with my class, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to revisit this topic. In addition to thinking about how I implemented blogs with my class this past semester, I've been considering changes I might make in upcoming semesters.

To review, this past semester, my students' blog assignment was very basic. All the students had to do was write, in English, 3 times a week. Because these were low-intermediate students who had not had much experience expressing themselves on a regular basis in English before, it was my hope that this assignment would allow them to explore their own writing abilities via subjects of personal interest and in a form which they had complete individual control over. I did not correct their grammar, and stressed that this assignment was for their own benefit. I also tried to encourage them to continue updating their blogs after the semester was over, so they could stay in touch with their friends who were going back to Korea and Japan.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like any of them are going to keep it up. None have updated since the end of the semester, not even Hans, who was in the middle of a 6-part installment. I'd like to think that they're all just too busy with vacations right now, but my inner realist/pessimist doesn't really buy that argument. Oh, well.

Part of the problem, I think, might have to do with a complaint many of them had: they often had a hard time thinking of anything to write about. This might be solved by making the blog a bigger in-class focus at the beginning of the semester, involving the students in an exploration and comparison of various kinds of blogs, especially themed blogs, which would give each student a greater focus in thinking of things to write about. Some themes I have thought of as suggestions include Life in the US, sports, idioms, current events, a reading journal, music/movie reviews, a focused TV log, a serial story, a guide to X country's culture.

What I don't want to do is tie the blogs into exactly what we are doing in class for the whole semester. I view blogging as an independent out-of-class project. For beginning students, they may benefit from the teacher assigning a topic designed to draw on previously learned vocabulary. For intermediate and high level students, though, I think an important part of the learning process is giving them the tools to continue learning on their own, especially after they graduate from college and are no longer in a classroom learning environment. If I can get some of them interested enough in blogging to sustain it, they will have an invaluable tool encouraging them to write long after they leave my class. This is especially important for the students who go back to their home countries, where they will have to make their own English practice opportunities. Reading and writing may become their best resources.

This may seem at odds with what I said to Scott in the comments from May 13th, when he asked if I would use blogs with students in an EFL setting, should I ever teach abroad again. I said I probably wouldn't, because it would be much harder to inspire the students to blog. I can see both sides to this argument now, though. If I could get the students to be inspired by more thematic blogs, rather than by the idea that they can use the blogs for long-distance communication, then it might actually be quite effective in the EFL setting. It would probably be harder to get the students to do, since they are not surrounded by English all the time, helping them think of things to say. Then again, that might be a stronger recommendation for them to keep blogs, because they need more encouragement to think in English outside of class.

I think I was biased in my original statement that I would not use them in an EFL setting by my previous teaching post in Japan. The students in my high schools there were very much beginners, and blogging would have been a very, very ambitious project to try to implement. At the college level, or with any higher level students of any age, and given the access to technology, it would be worth a try. Really, blogs are just a new way of looking at the same old journaling assignments foreign language teachers have been giving forever. They simply have the added glamor of being online, as reflective of an individual's personality as one wishes to make them, and with the capability of attracting a far-reaching audience for new communication.

From a practical teaching standpoint, I might also add that it makes a good standing homework assignment that the teacher doesn't have to correct, just check for effort. I am all in favor of assignments that make grading take less time, how about you?

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