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Blogging in Language Learning
by Rita Zeinstejer


If you ask your students whether they enjoy doing some extra reading or writing in English out of their classroom, only a chosen few will say "yes". But if you ask them whether they use "email" or "chatting", or whether they surf the net, very few will say "no". Most probably, they search for information on the Internet and use synchronous and asynchronous tools in their mother tongue, without realizing they are exercising their "reading" and "writing" skills. They do enjoy communicating with friends and find it fun. Why not tap the potential of these sources to develop their reading and writing skills as students of a foreign language?

EFL teachers rack their brains to devise authentic and meaningful tasks for the classroom, tasks which entail the practice and honing of the five skills. Most of these activities, however, demand an effort which seldom pays back: artificial situations prove repetitive, unexciting, tedious and unmotivating. Why not connect what our students do for fun with learning?

Blogs can do that.

Blogs or "weblogs" are very easily-created personal websites containing "posts" which are regularly and frequently updated in the form of a diary or journal, showing the most recent posts at the top of the page. They can be run by one person or by a group of people who are invited to participate, and visitors can leave comments, thus creating a real space for discussion and collaboration. Blogs are archived, and access to these records of postings allows for consultation and research.

Blogs also allow for the publication of links to other blogs, useful sites, photographs, images, audio and video. Educators from all over the world are taking advantage of this versatile tool to provide their students with the opportunity to communicate in meaningful interactive situations with teachers and other students of the language from all over the planet.

The freedom which blogs inspire has a positive effect on readers, who can publish their thoughts openly and frankly, thus creating an appropriate environment where to encourage students to collaborate and share not only the language but also their different cultures and even personal queries and expectations. Bloggers can connect with each other very easily, enabling the development of learning communities around common topics which can be consulted and commented on even by those with a minimum of technology know-how.

A Tool for Collaboration

The collaborative feature of Weblogs is what has appealed to EFL teachers. Commenting capabilities in many of the blogging software packages allow for easy peer review both for students and teachers. What is more, experts or mentors from outside the classroom can also add their comments, and this true exchange of opinions, experiences, news and information becomes a wealthy source and agent for teachers to use in unprecedented and most creative ways.

Why Blogging?

Because they allow us to...

  • place lessons, assignments, and announcements online.
  • expand students' access to relevant materials by incorporating links
  • enhance class interaction through online discussions and chats
  • facilitate idea sharing
  • motivate and prepare students for class
  • maintain communication with absent students
  • challenge students by placing quizzes and tests online
  • get parents more involved by giving them access to their children's assignments

What are the advantages of using blogs in EFL learning?

  • They allow instant publishing on the Internet
  • They cost little or nothing
  • They provide a comment feature that allows interaction from others
  • They are dynamic and focus on content from the participants - listening, talking, collaborating, conducting a dialogue, sharing.
  • They work for any subject
  • They are empowering - they give everyone a voice
  • They make writing THE focus - send the message that writing matters
  • They promote ownership of work
  • They allow us to learn from our students
  • They allow us to reflect on our teaching and our students' learning - think, review, rethink, respond.
  • They allow the interchange of thoughts and ideas
  • They are exciting - seeing others comment on your thoughts/anticipating comments and replies is thrilling!

What can teachers use blogs for?

    To...
  • post short current events/ articles to invite students' thoughts, reactions, and possible solutions
  • create a literature circle
  • post photos and ask students to create captions
  • foster book discussions in the form of an online book club
  • encourage student writing to demonstrate learning
  • direct students to curriculum web sites and have them read and make responses
  • communicate with another classroom
  • react to teacher entries about what they are learning and make connections to how this learning is relevant for them
  • post quotes and have students write their interpretation and apply it to something in their life
  • invite one student a day to post a summary and reflections on the day's learning
  • observe the growth of plants or animals or keep records of science experiments
  • spot and record student kindness or good deeds
  • develop new vocabulary by writing about a new word and having students create sentences or a brief paragraph using new vocabulary
  • archive handouts
  • enable students to post their ideas for the classroom or school
  • let students write short reviews of books they enjoy reading

What can students create their own blogs for?

  • to complete class writing assignments
  • to create an ongoing portfolio of samples of their writing
  • to express their opinions on topics they are studying in class
  • to write comments, opinions, or questions on daily news items or issues of interest
  • to discuss activities they did in class and say what they think about them
  • to write about class curriculum topics, newly-learned vocabulary words and idioms
  • to store their work
  • to showcase their best writing pieces
What should we have in mind when creating our first blog?

  • Go through different types of educational blogs to develop an understanding of their potential.
  • Leave your comments on other people's blogs to gain self-confidence in publishing.
  • Keep it simple at first.
  • There is nothing "right" or "wrong", build up your own experience through posting on topics you like/ your students like!
  • Use your creativeness to motivate students.
  • Don't linger on every posting.
  • Post regularly, encouraging your students to participate.
  • Comment on your students' comments
  • DO NOT dwell on mistakes! It's content what matters!
  • When quoting sources, give them credit
  • Write something about yourself
  • Choose your links carefully to entice students to read, investigate, write and share.
  • Integrate new knowledge once you consolidate your experience through practice. There is a lot to be learnt, and it's a challenge!

And what can blogs add to our professional baggage?

A new source of personal expansion; an unpredictable, unmatched fount of encounters with likeminded people; a deeper, more authentic contact with the language we seldom have; a closer understanding of other people and other cultures; a wider, wiser view of life in all its aspects by getting to learn about and appreciate values and approaches different from our own, but equally respectable.


Rita Zeinstejer
rita(at)zeinstejer(dot)com
www.zeinstejer.com
http://ritazeinstejer.pbwiki.com/


Weblog software

References



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