Blogging 3 Notes For Teachers

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Blogging 3 Notes For Teachers

  1. 1. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Introduction This workshop will explore the art of blogging and its integration into the formal curriculum. Editing, writing to a specific length and clarity all become immediate and relevant skills students must master in dealing with a global internet audience. Participants will be given practical advice on how to initiate student blogging and how to integrate materials based on graphic novels and films. Experience shows us that even the most reluctant students can fall in love with the writing process through regular blogging. Power Point 1 Using blogs to enable independent learning Ten tips for blogging (Slides 1-5): Here’s a great site with ten tips for writing a ‘Killer’ blog post. Teachers can modify the suggestions according to projected goals for their blogging programme. Do not underestimate #’s 3 and 4. Students will begin by writing too much, will forget about white space and tend to initially cram their blogs. The same things that appeal to readers in print pages (brevity, cleanliness, white space, headings that lead, etc.) also work in blogs. General blog posts should be restricted to 200 words and capped at 250. Less really is more when it comes to blogging. http://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/12/30/tens-tips-for-writing-a-blog-post/ 1. Make your opinion known 2. Link like crazy 3. Write less 4. 250 words is enough 5. Make headlines snappy 6. Write with passion 7. Include bullet point lists 8. Edit your post 9. Make your posts easy to scan 10. Be consistent with your style Digital literacy (Slides 6/7) If we are to accept that students must be taught independence to move them to become lifetime learners, why would we not utilise the internet and blogging in the classroom? Our students are digital natives and have acquired digital literacy just as they have acquired language skills. This is not something teachers can ignore as digital fluency is part of their on-going learning. They need to practise it in the present via social networking and utilise it in the future for employment opportunities. It just makes sense that if students have grown up with this technology, it behoves us as educators to integrate it into their learning. With each student designing his own blog, choosing topics related to a prompt and many beginning private blogs, it naturally leads to independent and differentiated learning. Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Teacher Processes: o Facilitating Assessment for Learning: Diagnose pupils’ needs, abilities, and interests…and provide timely and useful feedback for improving learning and self-assessment. • Principles of English Language Teaching and Learning: o Learner-centredness: Learners are at the centre of the teaching-learning process. Teaching will be differentiated according to pupils’ needs, abilities and interests. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 1
  2. 2. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Blogging and language acquisition (Slide8) The expansive audience that blogging brings to the classroom is a major contributor to students’ acquisition of language. With the introduction of blogging, opportunities for feedback increase exponentially; other students, parents, friends, teachers, relatives, acquaintances, essentially the entire internet is now at their disposal. And they will respond to this real-life, real-time situation by rewriting (There is no such thing as good writing, only rewriting), editing, reading other blog posts, and critiquing classmates. Basically all facets of language acquisition are built into classrooms that blog. Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Principles of English Language Teaching and Learning: o Integration: The areas of language E-learning – the receptive skills, the productive skills and grammar and vocabulary will be taught in an integrated way, together with the use of relevant print and non-print resources to provide multiple perspectives and meaningful connections. o Contextualisation: Learning tasks and activities will be designed for pupils to learn the language in authentic and meaningful contexts of use…to suit the purpose, audience, context and culture. Blogging and independent learning (Slides 9-11) The Speed of Information http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2006/02/the_speed_of_in.php The fastest increasing quantity on this planet is the amount of information we are generating. It is (and has been) expanding faster than anything else we create or can measure over the scale of decades. That means that at the very edge of change, where change changes the most, information is leading. Information is accumulating faster than any material or artifact in this world, faster than any by-product of our activities. The rate of growth in information may even be faster than any biological growth at the same scale. This unaccounted-for information is ‘wild’ information; it is also unmonetised growth. We can sense it in the blogosphere and social networking domain, where much information is not made explicit. (Excerpt from The Technium) If we accept that it is essential for educational institutions to reduce students’ dependence on schools and teachers for their learning, then what better way but to introduce them to blogging? Besides the independence this fosters, it also places them at the heart of the fastest growing information culture, the blogosphere. Instead of being passive they are actively and independently involved. With the rate of change and speed at which we are generating knowledge, the onus to expose students to this unmonetised growth cannot be left strictly to teachers. The best we can do is to introduce, engage, generate interest, set guidelines and allow students to explore. Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Principles of English Language Teaching and Learning: o Learning-focused interaction… the teacher will actively engage pupils by encouraging participation in their learning, boosting their confidence in the use of language, and promoting collaboration among learners from different socio-cultural backgrounds. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 2
  3. 3. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Layered learning (Slide 12/13) The basis for instruction is the curriculum. How we design it, use it, follow it, adapt it, and modify it, are all decisions teachers make on a daily basis. However as we move from the structure of teaching narrative and situational writing to a study of literature and philosophy and an on-going understanding of comprehension and summary, we need ways to expand students’ opportunities to interact through reading and writing. Blogging is the perfect vehicle. Layered over the formal curriculum, blogging allows students to expand on their learning through authentic discourse. Teachers have the option to integrate their blogging more closely with teaching activities related to the formal curriculum or they can move to a layered texture that relates to classroom activities in a more oblique, but nonetheless, relevant manner. At Hwa Chong Institution we have attempted to provide a format through blogging that challenges students to take acquired classroom skills and use them in authentic tasks. Not only have writing, creativity and editing improved, but students continue to blog on their own, further enhancing skill refinement. The pre test (Slide 14 - 16) Why even bother with a pre test? The pre test serves three purposes: • It allows you to see where your students are in terms of blogging. This, by extension, lets you introduce them to blogging and set parameters determining the depth of instruction and how far you can take the class within a designated time period • It allows you to identify which of your students can assist/mentor weaker students who do not have the background or IT capabilities to begin their blogs • This is an excellent way to get everyone immediately on topic, thinking strictly in terms of blogging, and working together, teacher/students, as a team. Cohesiveness! When designing your pre test, have it reflect the tenor of your programme. Overly stringent questions that test an in-depth knowledge of the topic like: T or F: Over 19,245 blogs are started every day. T or F: Metacognition is a term used to refer to the reflective qualities contained within some personalised blog entries. These might suggest a formal, rigid structure to the programme. Whereas: T or F: A pen is to a diary as a computer is to blog. T or F: Digital natives refer to bloggers, students who use IT and a band of North American Indians residing in downtown New York. These might suggest too informal a programme. A combination of questioning that captures the seriousness of the programme yet foretells student independence and personalisation, works best. Content (Slide 17/18) Nowhere is layered learning more evident than in the content of our blogging programme and within student blogs. From the nascent beginnings of their first blog, students have written up to 25 entries and linked their blog to: • Readers for Life, a recreational reading programme started at the Sec 1 level • Weread.com, the electronic bookshelf that digitally shelves and tracks all their reading complete with reviews, suggestions, chucks, authors, etc Enhancing School English Language Programmes 3
  4. 4. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers • Micro Fiction, a 55 word creative writing format • E-learning, carried out exclusively in their blogs • Wetpaint, the site that collectively houses their Micro Fiction ‘novel’ as well as all instructions for E- learning (first week of July 2009 in response to H1N1). Blog entries for library CCA, sharing of new materials, were published here as well Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Review, Revise Proofread and Edit to Improve Writing and Representation, Learning Outcome 4 o Review and revise drafts to enhance relevance, focus, clarity… o Change the typographical and visual features of a text… • Reading and Viewing Secondary o Improve sequencing…adjust spacing…improve layout. o Teachers will provide opportunities for pupils to access electronic books where applicable. Evaluation (Slides 19/20) Students were given a mark out of 10 credit points at year’s end. Minimally they were required to write 20 blogs with 12 comments. They had to demonstrate sophistication/growth from their first, simplistic offerings to full multi-media including video and photo montage integration. Final assignments included an MBA – Major Blog Assignment consisting of an introspective study of self. It challenged students to transfer the analysis skills used in the study of unseen prose and poetry to answer the question: Who Am I? While I was in the unique position as a Teacher Consultant of teaching only one class, I had the luxury of time to read and comment on almost every entry. Students want and need the feedback if blogging is to be a success. However, not all comments need to be from the teacher. Even for instructors with a full teaching load, there were still ways to follow up on blogs. Many teachers chose advanced students to be blog readers and monitor entries or students paired-up to read and comment on each other’s blog. Do not let the burden of reading blogs dissuade you from providing feedback in one form or another – there are methods to share the load and it’s critical to the success of the programme. A simple rubric outlines the differences between superior or excellent blogs and those that are deemed unsatisfactory. Areas for judging could include quality of posts, connections, writing standards, multi- media and overall perception. Teachers are encouraged to develop personalised rubrics that reflect their goals and the skill sets they would ultimately like students to master. Advantages (Slide 21) Besides the numerous academic skills blogging reinforced, there were also ‘non-academic’ advantages. If you want to get to know your students on a more personal level, start blogging. Students will share and write about topics with candour that they otherwise would not. A teacher from Sec 4 commented, in a general feedback discussion on E-Learning that he really got to know his students in July after marking their online lessons. My only thought was that if he had been involved in blogging from the beginning of the year, student personalities would have been revealed much earlier. Parents should be involved. Every opportunity I had, I asked parents to be a part of their son’s blogging. Whether it was soliciting support for the reading programme, asking for parents to share books with the class, acting as sounding boards to their son’s assignments or merely writing comments on their son’s blogs, their feedback and involvement was constant over the course of the year. This is a great way to bridge the disconnect many parents feel when their sons are isolated technologically by simply inviting them to be a part of the process. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 4
  5. 5. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Role of teachers (Slide 23) As the year progresses and students become more comfortable with blogging, the teacher’s role diminishes. While initially teachers were tasked with introducing blogs, modelling, supervising and overseeing, all educators should be taking a step back at this time and allowing the student to play a more active role. Our goal as teachers should be to make students as independent as possible. This involves decision- making on the student’s part and blogging is an excellent facilitator in this area. Student roles can be expanded to include modelling their entries, supervising and providing feedback to other students; in essence, assuming more personal responsibility for the entire programme. Students will respond positively to this newfound independence and carry it over to their other formal studies. I feel this was a major factor in the boys’ commitment to the blogging programme over the course of the year. Enthusiasm never waned in Sec 1 and blogging will be continued in Sec 2. Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Principles of English Language Teaching and Learning: o Process Orientation: The teacher will model and scaffold such processes for pupils, while guiding them to put together their final spoken, written and/or multimodal products. Final observations and conclusion (Slide 24) If you are contemplating introducing your class to blogging, my recommendation would be to do it. After one year I wholeheartedly support integrating blogging formally into the curriculum or layering it on top. The advantages of blogging include: 1) You get to know your students on a much more personal level 2) You have instant access to student thoughts, learning styles, likes and dislikes, etc 3) It’s a great way to holistically teach Language Arts in a truly integrated environment 4) Students improve their writing by writing. Blogging provides the perfect forum and platform for them to practise writing, editing and making it authentic for a real audience 5) Parents become involved in their child’s work and provide feedback, comments and support 6) Students take an active role and can be involved in the monitoring and feedback portion of the programme transferring independence and maturity to their other courses of studies 7) The class becomes a more cohesive unit coming together to share their blogs and reflections with classmates 8) Students learn that with the right to blog come responsibilities. If they won’t self-censor, privileges will be revoked. Should they go beyond those parameters, legal consequences could follow. Decision making becomes paramount 9) Students develop a comprehensive acceptance for their own learning 10) Self-assessment and independent growth come together over the course of the year and are on- going Enhancing School English Language Programmes 5
  6. 6. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Power Point 2 Ideas for blogging Using poems (Slides 2-3) Any poem can be used, but to start with it is good to use one that the students are familiar with. Deconstruct the poem looking at vocabulary, action and characters. Challenge the students’ thinking and make sure their ideas are justified. Break class into small groups. Retain the first line of the poem and write a new poem together encouraging thinking outside the box. Record in blog the new poem and what you learnt today. The E-learning can relate to anything in the lesson from the deconstructing to learning to work together. When I did it, a lot of students wrote that they learnt to think outside the box. Famous people (Slide 4) Students can either be given a list of people to choose from or free choice. I have used film to stimulate this activity and we focused on famous people who have dyslexia. Give about four questions for them to answer as a focus for their research. In their blog they can record answers to the questions, why they chose the person? Why they admire the person or similar? News articles (Slide 5) Students access The Straits Times online (http://www.straitstimes.com ) and read articles until they find one they are interested in. They write a short synopsis of the article as a blog and give their opinion about the issue they have read about. Their ideas must be justified and should quote or refer to this article or another similar one. News documentary (Slide 6) Download from the BBC, or a similar site, a news broadcast on an issue that the students are interested in or something that is controversial. Watch the broadcast with a focus for the students. In a blog the student should suggest a way that they can help with this issue. Their choice must be justified. Homework (Slide 7) To allow easy access for the teacher the students can complete their homework as a blog. The teacher is able to access it anywhere there is a computer. Even though the students write a blog every week I do not mark it every week. We use peer and self-assessment. When I mark I use feedback/feed forward. Responding to text (Slide 8) Students read a text of their choice. They write a blog including the author/poet and a short synopsis or record notes on what they have read. Other activities could be: choosing a character and relate them to themselves, describing two emotions in the text and relating them to their lives, explaining why they admire/dislike a character, relating two events from the text to their lives. Goal setting (Slide 9) Each student sets a personal goal to work on during English periods. The goal will have a set time to be achieved in, such as a term. The student will record in their blog their goal and how they are going to achieve it. The student is able to refer to their blog to remind themselves of their goal. A review of the goal can be made at the end of the time period and new goals set. Letter format (Slide 10) Work together in pairs or a group to discuss the format of each different type of letter and report. The students record in their blogs the format and can practise writing a letter. The students are able to check their blog whenever they need to revise. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 6
  7. 7. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Workshop Activities Activity 1: Use a graphic novel to stimulate the writing of a blog Billy, a Lolly Leopold Story by Kate De Goldi and Jacqui Collley Published by Trapeze 2004 P.O. Box 24063 Wellington, New Zealand ISBN 0-473-11144-6 Read graphic novel to the class, students to focus on: • The awards presented at the Pet and Produce day • The graphics In small groups students discuss what they think the criteria for each award would be to achieve first place. Award Criteria Vegetable Exhibits Cooking Sections Shell Collection Lego Construction Collage Toffee-making Decorated Cake Egg Art Domestic Pet Sand Saucer Lamb Calling The Lady Robinson Sewing Basket Trophy Ms Love designs a new award with criteria. Award Criteria A Pet and Produce Working outside limits innovation Brings their life into their art Having passion and panache Design a new award for the Pet and Produce Day with criteria of how you can win the award. Enter the name of your award and the criteria as a blog. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 7
  8. 8. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers • Alternative ideas: Billy has trouble understanding the vocabulary used and has to keep asking what the words mean. Use Billy’s vocabulary to teach skills of unknown vocabulary. Record techniques of how to find out meaning of unfamiliar words in a blog. Ms Love gets the class to write apology letters. Write a letter of reply to one of the letters in the book. Record in a blog. Links to English Language Syllabus 2010 • Listening and Viewing Skills and Strategies Learning Outcome 2: o Identify details; Make connections to real life and personal experiences; Compare and contrast information Activity 2: Use a documentary clip to stimulate the writing of a blog http://www.salon.com/ent/video_dog/politics/2009/03/23/tomd_afghanistan2/index.html Show clip of State of Girls’ Education in Afghanistan. Focus: positive and negative points of education for girls in Afghanistan. • Record the positive and negative points discussed in the clip. Positive Negative • The girls in Afghanistan would like to learn but the statistics beyond primary school are not very good. In a blog record a suggestion with justifications to increase the number of girls studying beyond primary school. This blog will be peer assessed. • Students to make a table in word to peer assess. Teacher to set two areas of criteria to be assessed (set areas of concern in the class). Feedback and Feed forward to be assessed every time. Student to post table in blog for classmate to read comments on their work. Student’s blog Girls’ Education in Afghanistan I think that it is awful that not many girls in Afghanistan get to continue their education past primary school. We are so lucky here in Singapore as the goverment lets us go to school and makes the school fese cheap so Name of assessor _________________________ could goof writer ___________________________school. everyone can afford. The students in Afghanistan Name to the goverment and ask for help to go to Area of assessment for Education in chairs to Afghanistan so they have something to sit at. Singapore could Rich countries could send tables and Afghanistan Comments send over some chalk as we no longer have blackboards instead we have white boards. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 8
  9. 9. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Proofread: Has the writer proofread to eliminate all errors? Do the sentences all make sense? Is the correct tense used throughout the writing? Justification: Does the writer justify their decision on whether Jess should play football or not? Are their reasons valid? Feedback: What has the writer done well? Feed forward: What does the writer need to work on next time? Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • A Positive Disposition Towards Active Listening and Viewing Learning Outcome 1: o Draw conclusions from contextual clues • Listening and Viewing Skills and Strategies Learning Outcome 3 o Listen and view with empathy and respect Activity 3: Use film to stimulate the writing of a blog Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring by Peter Jackson Watch clip of the fellowship coming together (chapter 23). Focus: the events leading up to the forming of the fellowship. Choose a character, from the following, and discuss in a blog what your pledge means and justify why you made a pledge of loyalty to Frodo. Character Pledge Gandalf I will help you bear this burden Aragon By my life or death if I can protect you I will, you have my sword Legolas And you have my bow Gimli And my axe Boromir You carry the fate of us all little one, if this indeed the will of the council then Gondor will see it done Sam Not going anywhere without me Merry We’re coming too Pippin You need people of intelligence on this Enhancing School English Language Programmes 9
  10. 10. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Alternative ideas: • Comprehension questions Give the students a copy of the comprehension questions to read over before they watch the clip. This gives them a purpose for viewing. After watching the clip, answer the questions. This could be done as an individual or as a pair. They need to type the questions and answers into a blog. Marking can be done by teacher, the student or by a peer. 1. Elrond, tells the gathering that ‘You will unite or you will fall.’ Why is this statement important? 2. When the ring is produced, Boromir sees it as a gift but the others do not agree. Why does Boromir think it is such a good thing? 3. Why would Boromir think the opinion of a ranger is not important enough to consider? 4. When the elf, Legolas, defends Aragon, what does Aragon do? 5. Gimli tries to destroy the ring with his axe but is told that it ‘can not be destroyed by any craft’. Explain this statement. 6. Mordor is described as ‘a baron waste land that is riddled with fire, ash and dust and the air is a poisonous fume’. Think of other similar situations that you know of. It can be some or all of the features. Explain why you think they are similar. 7. Gimli says ‘I will be dead before I see the ring in the hands of an elf.’ What does this suggest about the relationship between the elves and the dwarves? 8. When those who are to become the fellowship pledge their loyalty to Frodo, Gandalf winks at Elrond. What do you think is the meaning of this wink? Elrond says, ‘You have been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor. Middle Earth stands on the brink of destruction. None can escape it. You will unite or you will fall. Each race is bound to this fate, this one doom.’ Use the above statement by Elrond and Freedom Writers where the tribes come together with a common cause of loss (chapter 6) as your examples to discuss one, some or all of the following in a blog: • Uniting as one for a common cause • Breaking barriers • Fate and Free will • Empowerment • Good vs. Evil The fellowship of the ring is to embark on a quest to destroy the ring. Work in a group of four to research and complete the following quest: You are travelling as a group on a quest with Marco Polo from Italy to the Far East. You must plot your journey before you leave. To be able to do this you need to research the journey to discover the following: • Modes of transport • Obstacles along the way • What to take for provisions • Geographical features Each student in the group must have a research area to gather information on. When all information is gathered the group must prepare a report to be presented to Marco Polo before the journey starts. The report will be recorded by each group member in a blog along with an individual section on the process that was used, the workings of the group and if they were effective. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 10
  11. 11. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Lings to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Reading Comprehension and Viewing Skills, Strategies, Attitudes and Behaviour Learning Outcome 2 & 3: o Make inferences to draw conclusions from contextual information and implied information; Interpret and integrate information from a variety of sources; Gather information independently from a range of print and non-print sources; Select and evaluate relevant information from various sources for defined information needs; Provide and interpret evidence to support understanding; Make connections between a text and other points of view/ideas. Activity 4: Bend It Like Beckham directed by Gurinder Chadha Show clip of when Jess wants to join the football team (chapter 3). Focus: more than one perspective is given about Jesminder (Jess) playing football, consider each of the perspectives. Jess wants to play football but to do that she must defy her parents’ wishes. What decision should Jess make and why? Write answer to question as a blog. Extension • Divide the class into pairs, one partner to be Jess and the other Mrs Bhamra (her mum) • Jess – prepare a list of reasons why you should be allowed to play football • Mrs Bhamra – prepare a list of reasons why Jesminda should not play football • Have a debate with each other using your reasons • Complete a blog on which argument had the greatest effect and why? Activity 5: Freedom Writers directed by Richard LaGravenese and Mean Girls directed by Mark Waters Watch Freedom Writers when the tribes are named (chapter 3) and Mean Girls when the groups are named (chapter 2). Focus: School is divided into groups that the students hang out in. In small groups: • Divide the various groups into categories and giving each category a name. Students must be prepared to justify their categorisation of the groups. Little Cambodia The Ghetto Wonder Breadland South of the Border (Little Tijuana) Freshmen ROTC guys Preps JV Jocks Asian Nerds Cool Asia Varsity Jocks Unfriendly Black Hotties Girls Who Eat Their Feelings Girls Who Don’t Eat Anything Desperate Wannabes Burn-outs Sexually Active Band Geeks In a Word document, create a table of the categories. Cut and paste your table into your blog. The Greatest People you’ll Ever Meet The Plastics Ideas for the rest of the blog: Record the stages of the process that you and your group went through. Evaluate whether your group worked well together or not. Describe the process of working together as a group for decision making in a paragraph. Justify the category names and why each group was placed in a certain category. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 11
  12. 12. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Reading Comprehension and Viewing Skills, Strategies, Attitudes and Behaviour Learning Outcome 2: o Using prior knowledge; Use contextual clue: visual features; Categorise and classify given details Activity 6: Freedom Writers directed by Richard LaGravenese Watch Freedom Writers when Erin Gruwell brings the tribes together through loss of loved ones (chapter 6). Focus: Coming together through the common cause of loss. Students to write a diary entry in their blog using the following scenario: • You are a member of the Freedom Writers’ class. As you walk onto to the line, to remember your friend who has died, you look up to see that everyone in the class is standing on the line. You realise that not only your tribe/group but all tribes/groups have been affected Make a blog entry in the form of a diary. You must describe how you felt at the time, what you noticed and how this will affect you in the future. You may wish to refer back to the earlier clip from Mean Girls and Freedom Writers when all the tribes/groups were shown. • Self-assessment of writing Look carefully at your work. Tick the correct box on the checklist. If you have not done something redo it next time. Always Sometimes Never 1. Do I have a topic sentence for each paragraph? 2. Have I explained each topic sentence? 3. Is there one main idea for each paragraph? 4. Have I used correct punctuation? 5. Are there capital letters in all the right places? 6. Have I used interesting vocabulary? 7. Is the language used appropriate? 8. Have I added enough detail to the paragraph? Alternative Ideas: Write a letter to a friend of another tribe acknowledging how sorry you are for their loss. Discuss – It is important at school to focus on what is happening in the classroom and not let your life outside school affect your learning. Predict what might happen to the classroom dynamics after this experience of coming together as one. Write a series of questions to ask a member of the Freedom Writers’ class about their experiences. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 12
  13. 13. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Links to English Language Syllabus 2010: • Reading Comprehension and Viewing Skills, Strategies, Attitudes and Behaviour Learning Outcome 2 & 3: o Make prediction based on: contextual clues; View a text closely and offer interpretation Enhancing School English Language Programmes 13
  14. 14. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Appendix Using blogs to enable independent learning By Joyce Lim, Susan Soh, Rodger Spelmer Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore (High School Section) Abstract: If you can’t beat them, join them! The interest in and upsurge of blogs in recent years can be largely attributed to the participation and contribution of youths. Rather than dismissing blogging as another fad, why not harness its potential to promote independent learning in the classroom? Blogs offer abundant opportunities for youths to write purposely in a real context, to be meaningfully and thoughtfully engaged with ideas and to help them process a higher level of understanding and thinking. The creation of a community of learners ensures that students are the focal point of the community where they interact, engage and learn while teachers accept a dethroned position as participants in the community. This paper aims to explore how and why the creation of a community of learners enhances self- reflection, empowers students to engage in sustained discussions of their blogs and the blogs of their peers. Additionally, the new role of the teacher in the community of learners will be analysed and discussed. Proliferation of blogs The term blog, an online personal journal frequently updated, has existed since 1998. With the release of Blogger, a free blog hosting service, unprecedented growth has been experienced since 1999. Weblogs have proliferated from personal recounts to professional realms extending into journalism and business but not yet entering mainstream education in appreciable numbers. Fortune magazine in 2005 introduces ‘10 tech trends to watch in 2005,’ and blog ranks the first one. The same article goes on to state that ‘23,000 new weblogs are created every day – or about one every three seconds.’ (p.34). As educators it is incumbent upon us to harness the writing, editing, researching and reflecting opportunities this platform allows our learning clientele. Role of teachers in blogging This paper will examine the relationship between the implementation of weblogs and the development of a community of independent learners. There is a unique, shared experience that exists between individual bloggers and their community at large. That sphere of influence begins introspectively within the student and radiates to his class, to the school, to the community and ultimately beyond. And while the teacher is responsible for initiating the entire process and overseeing its development, his role should diminish over time until his directorship is implied. True independent learning will follow with students writing crafted, re-written, reflective blog entries either in response to a prompt or more ideally, self-directed. Independence of learning The basic premise of this paper can best be summed up within the statement: ‘It is essential for schools to reduce students’ dependence on schools and teachers for their learning and increase students’ capability to set and meet their own learning goals.’ (Core Curriculum Advisory Committee, 1986, p. 13) Enhancing School English Language Programmes 14
  15. 15. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers Blogging provides the perfect vehicle for students to extend their learning beyond the traditional restraints of brick walls and curriculum by accessing the internet interactively. If we are to prepare our students for independence as a life skill, it is our responsibility to assist them in acquiring the skills to deal with new situations and experiences. By having students assume responsibility for creating and maintaining blogs over a sustained period of time, we are tasking them with the onus for their learning. Blogging allows teachers to move their students towards independence in varying degrees, taking into consideration concomitant skill sets, individual ability, maturity and readiness factors. This individuality will allow for a shift from teacher to student-centred learning, a necessity in these times of rapid change and information overload. Students must see the need, in practical terms, to become ‘lifetime learners.’ They must become individuals who recognise that they are living in times of unprecedented change and to accept and understand these profound changes; they must embrace their own independent learning and thus learn to cope with changing demands placed on them by family, work, school and society. Digital literacy Before students can access and realise the individualised and multi-faceted learning opportunities blogging allows through educational technology, they must be taught digital literacy or digital fluency. As Huffaker (2005) writes this ‘refers to the ways people become comfortable using technology as they would any other natural language.’ Other writers have predicted that ‘digital fluency will be another prerequisite for sociability, lifelong learning, and employment opportunities.’ (Resnick, 2002). Students, taught blogging in an educational context, will not only have traditional literacy skills strengthened, their learning will be enhanced with the digital fluency needed to prosper in the digital age. The question then becomes, not whether we should be introducing our students to blogging, but how do we integrate this concept into our classes with a best practice application? Weblogs allow for the fusion of educational technology and traditional narrative writing inside the classroom and beyond. ‘Storytelling and literacy are the foundation of language development, and more so, the foundation of learning.’ (Huffaker, 2005 p.96). The personal blog provides an arena where self-expression and creativity are not only encouraged but demanded by the format. By linking to other bloggers, students establish like-minded peer group relationships that exist in the real world. Their work is both individualistic and collaborative. The ability of the blogger to link to fellow bloggers, creates an interwoven, dynamic organisation an impossible situation to establish in a classroom without an internet conjoined setting. Defining independent learning The first step in the process is differentiating between individualisation and independent learning, two concepts often used interchangeably. The easiest way to envision independent learning is to view it as a direction in a process and not an absolute standard. Just as the title of this paper suggests, enabling independent learning does not mean individualisation. Rather, independent learning allows for student differences and takes into account the variance of student interests and abilities; in essence, it personalises instruction. Teachers achieve more and students benefit more if educators implement patterns of instruction that serve multiple needs. This critical first step encourages students to make meaning for themselves and provides a basis for the acquisition of new knowledge and how it is related to their personal experiences. Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) in their publication Integrating Differentiated Instruction + Understanding by Design write: A teacher who makes consistent efforts to pique a student’s curiosity, discover students’ particular and shared interests, and show students how important ideas and skills connect to their interests is likely to Enhancing School English Language Programmes 15
  16. 16. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers find students who are far more eager and willing to learn than they would be if they found content and skill to be remote from their interests. (p.19) Determining learning preferences/interests What are the best ways to determine E-learning preferences and interests? Online tests can reveal multiple E-learning styles. Groupings can be made depending on whether a student’s learning preference is intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, logical, linguistic, aesthetic or visual. Interests can be ascertained through initial blog writing, a study of class reading habits and looking specifically at preferred genres and authors read. A careful study of responses to in-class assignments, discussions with parents and informal sessions with students will also reveal individual preferences and interests. Transfer of ownership Once this critical first stage has been established teachers can begin the all-important transfer of responsibility for learning from teacher to student. The teacher’s role at this point diminishes and s/he should move from modelling, initiating, and supervising to overseeing. This juncture will be reached at different times by teachers and their classes. Factors that will influence the timing of this transfer of power include: • The pre test • Teacher digital readiness • Class readiness – blogging experience and internet usage • Physical facilities available with internet connectivity • Ability of the teacher to meld blogging into the curriculum • A well-written rubric and outline so students know where the process is leading • Ability of the teacher to get to know student learning styles, interests, likes and dislikes • Well-crafted prompts to establish initial student assessment • Teacher ability to recognise opportunities to enable independent learning and the confidence to step back How to make classes student-centred This last bullet point can not be overemphasised. Many classes are still traditional, teacher-centred classrooms. Interestingly, blogging provides a platform to facilitate the transition of power from teacher to student. Not only must teachers step back, they must relinquish control of decision-making, perhaps the most difficult aspect of this process for teachers to pass on. But as Kesten writes, the school environment should be ‘organised to encourage and support a continued, increasingly mature and comprehensive acceptance of responsibilities for one’s own learning.’ (1987, p.15) A five-step process, outlined by Herber and Herber (1987) can be incorporated to guarantee student empowerment in the E-learning process: 1) Modelling transition: Practice opportunities are provided after modelling with the goal of independent decision making. It is critical that students are informed why the activity is useful. 2) Transfer of responsibility from teacher to learner: The authors state unequivocally, ‘independence is developed by design, not chance.’ Students discover how their efforts affect their learning and from this feeling of control, are motivated to continue E-learning. 3) Knowledge and understanding of students: The better a teacher knows his students, the more proactive role he can play in transitioning power to them. 4) Collaborative instructional techniques: Independent learning is carried out in co-operative, small groups, whole class learning but not in isolation. Teachers should be aware of creating an Enhancing School English Language Programmes 16
  17. 17. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers environment that is age appropriate, subject appropriate and meets student needs. This can be facilitated through: divergent thinking, concept mapping, journal writing, learning centres and independent research. 5) Support and encouragement: Teachers have to impress upon their students that independent learning is a lifelong pursuit. As educators we must provide the independent learning environment that motivates students to acquire the skills and to embrace this learning style. Metacognition Once teachers have created the E-learning environment, motivated students to become independent learners and ceded responsibility, how do we instil self-improvement? If we have developed a community of independent learners through the blogging process, two areas still remain to be explored: critical thinking and evaluation. Critical thinking is strengthened in tandem through the introduction of authentic tasks and reflection. Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) state that rather than asking students to simply transfer what they know to a new situation, teachers set up realistic, authentic contexts for assessment. This might include but is not restricted to: conducting research, solving real-world problems, interpreting literature, and writing purposefully. ‘When students can apply knowledge and skill appropriately to a new situation and can effectively explain how and why, we have the evidence to ‘convict’ them of understanding.’ (p. 68) One of the most widely praised features of blogging is the ability to focus on and increase students’ thinking. This is accomplished through having them review, rewrite and revise their learning. Fulwiler, (1987) suggested though that there needs to be critical reflection in the journal, it is not sufficient to simply document or describe. The learner needs to articulate the connection between new information and what they already know. Combining authentic tasks with reflection allows thinking skills to be taken to the next level of development. Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) suggest that metacognition is not a serendipitous acquisition, but rather a learned skill. Research and experience have shown that metacognitive strategies can be taught, and the benefits to learners can be noteworthy. (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Costa & Kallick, 2000; Flavell, 1985). A very straightforward way to cultivate metacognition is to have learners respond reflectively to a number of questions: • What do you really understand about ……………..? • What questions/uncertainties do you still have about ……………….? • What was most effective in ……………..? • How could you improve ………………..? • What would you do differently next time? Preliminary findings When we first undertook blogging, assessment was thought to be one of the areas that would be difficult to quantify. Engagement in this nascent project has revealed assessment in a new light: assessment and independent growth are working interdependently. Built into the blogging process is the opportunity for students to reflect on personal, continual growth. Through their reflections, they are allowed to self-assess, have peer feedback and teacher responses. One of the strengths of this programme is that instead of having students prepare for a single assessment, their evaluations are on- going and allow for constant self growth. If we are to accept Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) when they state that assessment demands multiple sources of evidence and in terms of a photographic analogy should resemble an album and not a single snapshot, then we have the perfect format. ‘It is the same with classroom assessment – a single test at Enhancing School English Language Programmes 17
  18. 18. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers the end of instruction is less likely to provide a complete picture of a student’s learning than a collection of diverse sources of evidence is.’ (p.60) A one-year study of students’ blogging will provide the requisite for intensive, formative assessment. Enhancing School English Language Programmes 18
  19. 19. Blogging: Beyond the Curriculum / notes for teachers References Chai C S & Tan S C, (2003) Constructing Knowledge Building Communities in Classrooms. REACT, Nanyang Technological University & National Institute of Education, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 91-101 Huffaker, D. (2005) The Educated Blogger: Using Weblogs to Promote Literacy in the Classroom. AACE Journal, 13(2), 91-98. Tomlinsion CA & McTighe (2006) Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding By Design. ASCD, MA. Wu W S, Using in an EFL Writing Class, Chung Hua University [online] www.chu.edu.tw/~wswu/publications/papers/conferences/05.pdf Accessed 28 November 2008 Armstrong L & Berry M, Blogs as Electronic Learning Journals. RMIT, [online] http://www.usq.edu.au/electpub/e-jist/docs/vol7_no1/currentpractice Accessed 28 November 2008 Suzuki, R (2004), Diaries as Introspective Research Tools: From Aston Warner to Blogs, TESL-EJ, Vol. 8 No. 1 June 2004, [online] http://tesl-ej.ord/ej29/int.html Downloaded 28 November 2008 Saskatchewan Education, Chapter 7: Independent Learning from Understanding the Common Essential Learnings, A Handbook For Teachers, [online] http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/policy/cels/el7.html Accessed 28 November 2008 Enhancing School English Language Programmes 19

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