Saturday, 17 March 2012

Connecting my blogging students

We have now gone through two English courses without a textbook. We have used a lot of online materials (texts, blogs, pictures and videos) as material. The class blog has been the "online hub" to provide the links, give instructions, and motivate students. And the individual student blogs (also linked to the "hub") have been the platform for writing practise and conversations through comments.

As all this was totally new for me as well as for the students, I thought it was necessary to practise in our own little community first. Especially commenting is something that doesn't come naturally to most students. It takes a lot of guidance for students to realize what it really means to take a genuine interest in what other people have written, and to initiate conversations through their comments. In addition, writing to an unknown online audience is very different from only writing composition for your own teacher to read and assess! How do you catch readers' attention with your blog post? What culturally bound concepts will you have to explain to non-Finnish readers? What can you write in a public forum? How about privacy and online safety issues? All these, and many more, questions have come up in the course of our blogging journey so far.

If anyone is interested in more details, here are the links to my previous reflections on the first stages of student blogging:

Blogging with students 1 (why + setting the online "hub")
Blogging with students 2 (starting individual students blogs)
Blogging with students 3 (students' first blog posts)
Blogging with students 4 (commenting)
Blogging with students 5 (lots of positive progress in our 2nd course)

But now I feel it's time to start looking for student partners outside our own school, to make the blogging experience more real and authentic for my students. I am confident that they are now ready for it, and will be even more motivated, knowing that there are real people somewhere to connect with.

Through my years of doing international school projects, I have always believed that authenticity, in one form or another, is essential in foreign language learning. And now we have the chance to easily connect with schools around the world, thanks to wonderful ICT tools! The international projects I used to do before, where done as optional credit courses for interested students. Now I'm moving towards making such project work part of each and every English course I teach, with the goal of exposing all my students to real language use during their school years.

But where to find the partners? Internet serendipity again! I noticed that my online colleague from Australia, Tania Sheko, had just started blogging with the Yr 9 boys in her school. Of course, I was curious to see what they were up to, and was so amazed to read the mature responses of only 14-15-year-old boys to a demanding topic "You are what you know" that I just had to start writing comments. One thing led to another, and I have now promised to have my students do some commenting on these boys' blogs, too.

It's really worth reading Tania's reflections on her students' blogging. I share her views whole-heartedly, e.g. the following:
So much learning takes place without much effort though – writing not just for your teacher and a mark, but for a peer audience and a potentially global readership, will open up the scope for authentic discussions and social learning.
I can't wait for our next course to begin on April 10th, to get the interaction going! I welcome others to read and leave comments, too. It would really open up the classrooms to the world,  for both the Australian and our Finnish students.

Photo: connect by katypang on Flickr

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