by Melissa J. Enns
Modern digital media technology is creating exciting new opportunities for education. Given my research on using blogging to merge research and practice in language education, today I will discuss the use of blogs as a pedagogical tool in language classrooms.
On the surface, blogs provide learners with excellent forums for reading and writing. It can be difficult to motivate language learners to read, especially outside of the classroom; however, Yang (2009) comments that studies have shown that access to the Internet “motivates many students to read extensively” (p. 13). One of the advantages of blogs is that students have the freedom to choose their own texts on topics they care about, which results in greater investment (Yang, 2009).
Language teachers could easily use blogs encourage students to read on their own terms. We could work with students to help them find blogs on topics of interest and assign a minimum number of posts to read per month. Every so often, we could have a class “check-in” and invite learners to share their discoveries. The literature cited by Yang suggests that the number of students interested in reading in the target language will likely increase drastically when they are allowed to curate their own reading.
Yang notes that interaction with blogs also entails a social element. Readers have the option to engage in discussion of “common interests and individual differences” (p. 13), so that communities of shared interest naturally form. Yang states that members of these communities “tend to get more involved than they do in other pedagogic and web-based environments” (p. 13), so that readers and writers alike will likely become very motivated both to learn and to share their experiences. Since blogs are naturally social, the next step is writing and community formation. Whether it’s posting comments on other people’s blog entries or creating classroom blogs to which all students contribute, blogging also provides an excellent forum for students to practice their writing while investing in a community of practice (see Farr & Riordan, 2015). Not only do projects of this sort stimulate investment and provide learners with outlets for reading and writing, but they also present opportunities for students to hone their skills in perspective-taking (Yang, 2009) and media literacy (Luehmann & Tinelli, 2008).
Beyond the overt goals mentioned above, blogging also helps to achieve other outcomes; depending on how the blogging work is framed, it can foster different practices that are conducive to learning in general. For example, multiple studies conducted with university and graduate students enrolled in language education programs have shown that the use of group blogging forums can stimulate reflective practices and collaborative knowledge construction (Fisher & Kim, 2013; Farr & Riordan, 2015; Deng & Yuen, 2011). Additionally, blog-writing has been found to support users in developing their identity (Farr & Riordan, 2015; Fisher & Kim, 2015) and voice (Guerin, et al., 2015), both of which could be used to encourage discussion of language and social context. Finally, Luehmann and Tinelli (2008) found that giving and receiving social support was an important function of blogging for graduate teacher-learners, and I propose that in language classrooms, blogging projects could likewise provide learners with a much-needed space to give and receive support throughout the process of acquisition.
Teachers interested in setting up class blogs have numerous options. Students could be encouraged to select and blog about topics of interest to them and engage in peer feedback and discussion with their peers. Alternatively, they could write blog entries and comments in response to course-based discussion questions posed by the teacher (Yang, 2009). Additionally, teachers could have students blog about their experiences with language learning, and students could be instructed to read each other’s posts and engage in discussion with each other through the comments.
Such discussions provide an excellent opportunity for joint construction of metalinguistic knowledge in language classes. For example, if learners were encouraged to reflect on the language learning process, including uses of language they come across that they find confusing, their discussions may well allow them to collaboratively build their knowledge of grammatical concepts and pragmatic language use. Students who have more knowledge would share it with those with less, and such a forum may encourage them to make use of the myriad resources available on the Internet to solve their own language problems. It may be helpful if the teacher monitors from the side lines, offering direction in any cases where learner discussions are headed in the wrong direction.
Since language classrooms present a different range of contexts than the studies mentioned previously, it may be not always be possible to integrate blogging projects of the sort described; however, similar outcomes could be encouraged for younger learners or beginners through simplified activities. With a little searching, sites that offer reading material on diverse topics for all levels can be found, and Kahoot discussions that are only visible to the class can be created. Internet aside, reflection and collaborative learning could be fostered through journals and group discussion in class.
What do you think? Would you consider using blogging (or a similar activity) in your classroom? How would you structure it? What other ways could “pre-blogging” activities be designed for younger or lower-level learners?
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Deng, L. & Yuen, A. H. K. (2011). Towards a framework for the educational affordances of blogs. Computers and Education, 56, 441-451. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.09.005.
Farr, F. & Riordan, E. (2015). Tracing reflective practices of student teachers in online modes. European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning. DOI: 10.1017/S0958344014000299.
Fisher, L., & Kim, D. (2013). Two approaches to the use of blogs in pre-service language teachers’ professional development: a comparative study in the context of two universities in the UK and the US. The Language Teaching Journal, 41(2), 142-160. DOI: 10.1080/09571736.2013.790130.
Guerin, C., Carter, S., & Aitchison, C. (2015). Blogging as community of practice: lessons for academic development? International Journal for Academic Development, 20(3), 212-223. DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2015.1042480.
Luehmann, A. L. & Tinelli, L. (2008). Teacher professional identity development with social networking technologies: learning reform through blogging. Educational Media International, 45(4), 323-333. DOI: 10.1080/09523980802573263.
Yang, S.-H. (2009). Using blogs to enhance critical reflection and community of practice. Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), 11-21. Retrieved 02-11-2017 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.12.2.11.