On the 8th of February, bright and early, I set off for Leeds. This was to deliver one of the sessions on the Leeds Beckett (was Metropolitan!) M.A. in ELT’s Multimedia and Independent Learning module. Yes, the self-same module in which all my learner autonomy geekery was born!
The topic of my workshop was “Blogging to teach and to learn”. In essence, the plan was to do the following:
It may sound a bit ambitious, but we had around 2.5 hrs to play with, fortunately! (My longest workshop to date!)
So we started with the theory by talking about why theory mattered to this session:
We need theory so that we don’t fall into the trap of just using technology for the sake of using technology. We need clear principles and purposes, which will help us to select which technology would best suit what we are planning to do, if any at all.
Then we looked at the question of using blogs:
I think developing one’s own voice in another language is incredibly important. In fact, I used to blog regularly in Italian. Then, I decided to just write on my computer rather than on the internet as I was in any case keeping the blog private. I still do this pretty well every day. It’s the main use of Italian I get in my daily life since leaving Italy. Being able to express yourself in your target language gives you greater ownership over the language. Making the language ‘part of your everyday existence’ means that you are getting the all-important regular use that is crucial to language learning.
It is, of course, quite hard to start, when your level is low. I remember my first attempts early on. You know, before I discovered the past tense. Fast forward two years and I can say pretty much anything I want to, looking up the occasional piece of vocabulary. It was having read all this theory around learner autonomy and then moved to Italy, that I tried to implement it in my own language learning, as well as using it with my students. I was my own guinea pig, if you will. My learners are unlikely to have come across this theory and therefore may not think of blogging in their target language but as a teacher, I can build this experience into the course through a class blog, and, who knows, they might even continue and create their own blogs in future.
Bit of a long quote! However, it draws on several aspects of writing for publication that, in my opinion, apply equally to blogs. (And, indeed, the authors do mention blogging in their breakdown of different modes of writing, though the focus of their study is teacher-writers who wrote for the Humanising Language Teaching magazine.) My blog has certainly been central to my attempts to align what I do in the classroom with all the theory around learner autonomy that I was exposed to when I was a student on this Multimedia course. It is an ongoing process! “Self-criticism” and “enhanced enthusiasm” also go with the territory in my experience: the very prospect of sharing something with a wider audience encourages one to reflect more deeply on it and critique it first. Perhaps in so doing, more ideas are born regarding where to go next and what to try next, and this experimentation prevents stagnation/boredom, as does being part of the “wider community” in ELT. Blogging, using Twitter, reading other people’s blogs, interacting on their blogs, these are all ways of participating in the wider community. People speak of their PLN – Personal Learning Network – the global community of professionals with whom they are connected and interact via social media, but often also in real life, meeting up at international conferences such as IATEFL.
On a more practical level, teacher blogs can double up as online portfolios, particularly as blogging software becomes more sophisticated. So, for example, WordPress allows someone with no coding knowledge to create a website with embedded blog. So, in addition to the benefits of blogging, you gain the benefits of being able to showcase what you do. It also enables you to pin content from the blog so that it is easier to find. So, for example, on my M.A. ELT/Delta page, I have linked to blog posts relating to that, on my Learner Autonomy page, I have linked to all my blog posts relating to LA, and so on. Being able to provide evidence of commitment to development is potentially useful in the hunt for jobs, in terms of making you stand out from other applicants.
Finally, I find my blog useful when preparing for workshops. I do the write-up prior to the workshop or talk, and it helps me to clarify in my brain exactly what I want to do or say. Subsequently I then edit it to reflect what actually happened on the ground as well, particularly in workshops where the participants play a more central role.
Having considered some arguments in favour of using technology, and in particular blogs, with students, I thought it timely to draw attention to a potential problem with it: the issue of autonomy being expected but not fostered. This is something that I was very mindful of when working on my learner autonomy projects in Palermo. As well as deciding what technology, if any, is best for the purpose(s) we have in mind, we need to make sure that we scaffold learners towards independent use of them.
Otherwise put, use of technology cannot exist in a vacuum if it is to be used to full effect. We need to be careful to consider carefully how it fits into what we are doing with our students.
The main thrust of this session was practical, however, so at this point it was time to change focus to the HOW of blogging, starting with how to set up a blog. There are various platforms available for blogging, but rather than overwhelming the student teachers with choice, myself and the course leader both agreed that it would be best to focus on one, which would inevitably be the one with which I am most familiar: good old WordPress!
So, we went through the 4 steps to setting up:
- Choosing a theme (which you can easily change subsequently, so don’t worry too much which one you pick!)
- Choosing a site address (be unique or be turned down!
- Declining to have money taken off you unless you are feeling ultra rich!
- Providing a valid email address
Then all that remains is to validate your email address by clicking on the link they send you to the address you provided.
Next, I imparted a valuable piece of wisdom – you can avoid the beep beep boop WordPress dashboard and continue to use the functional one by using the magic link:
So then we were ready to start working our way through the handout I had prepared, which interspersed the various aspects of setting up a blog, which we went through step by step (to act as a reference guide/memory trigger for the students after the session) with reflection and discussion relating to these.
They were a great group of students, with plenty to say when it came to all the discussion points, and I really enjoyed working with them. I wish them all the best for the rest of the course and beyond. Hopefully they will get blogging, both with learners and for themselves as teachers! Finally, thank you to Heather Buchanan, the course and module leader, for giving me this opportunity! 🙂
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