Workshop: Blogging to teach and to learn (Leeds Beckett Uni)

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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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  1. Choosing a theme (which you can easily change subsequently, so don’t worry too much which one you pick!)
  2. Choosing a site address (be unique or be turned down!
  3. Declining to have money taken off you unless you are feeling ultra rich!
  4. 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:

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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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Top ten resources for teachers

The internet is a great place for English language teachers, if you know to where to look! Here are my top ten resources (ok I cheated a bit by grouping some!) – have you used them all yet?

Conversely: What is your favourite resource?

– Have you used any resources that completely wowed you, that aren’t on this list?

Please comment and let me/everybody else know about them!

In no particular order then…

British Council Teaching English – website and Facebook page

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http://www.teachingenglish.org: screenshot of the home page

The British Council Teaching English website and Facebook page are both very valuable resources for teachers with any level of experience.

The website contains a wealth of freely available content, such as:

  • teaching ideas
  • articles on methodology, skills etc.
  • webinar recordings
  • downloadable ELT-related research
  • links to the blogs that have been awarded the popular “blog of the month” award and associate blogger posts
  • information about professional development courses

…and much more besides!

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Screenshot of the British Council Teaching English Facebook page

 

The Facebook page is where links are shared and people can be found discussing the ELT-related issues that those who run the page raise for this purpose on a regular basis. Both are well worth a visit!

Onestop English

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http://www.onestopenglish.com: screenshot of the homepage

onestopenglish is another goldmine of ideas for lessons and articles about different aspects of teaching. Good things about this website include the breadth of its resources (which are regularly added to) – as well as general English (divided into Grammar and Skills, which in turn are sub-divided into numerous other categories) the site holds ideas for teaching:

  • Business English
  • CLIL
  • TKT
  • ESOL
  • Young learners and teens

– and the ease with which it is possible to find things due to clear categorisation. In addition to resources, they also have a handy jobs section. Some of the resources are freely available, while some are only available if you subscribe.

Academia.edu

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Academic.edu: screenshot of homepage.

Academia.edu might seem less user-friendly than the above two websites, but is nevertheless a very valuable resource: as a researcher, you can register and upload .pdfs of articles that you have written, to share with the community, and as a teacher/reader, it gives you access to research for free, which is not something to be sniffed at!

English Teaching Professional magazine’s website

www.etp.com : a screenshot of the home page

http://www.etp.com : screenshot of the home page

You have most probably read, or at least heard of, the ETp magazine for teachers, which contains articles and activity ideas, book reviews and much more. Well, the ETp website is equally worthwhile and demonstrates commitment to professional development in the resources it provides to this end. Each of the different sections contain links to articles around various topics and the site also has its very own registered blogger, Chia Suan Chong, whose posts are always worth reading. Currently, EtP are also organising a one-day conference, which will be held on 21st June 2014 in Brighton.

Twitter

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The ubiquitous Twitter bird via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

Naturally! By Twitter, I don’t mean the Twitter website, per se. What I mean is the wealth of links it can make available to you and the discussions you could participate in, if you use it professionally. As everything you need to know is in the afore-mentioned link, I’ll leave Twitter right here.

Teacher blogs

Many ELT professionals these days maintain a blog. It is considered to be a valuable form of professional development to do so. It is easy to follow these blogs and be notified each time a new post is added. Here are a few to get you started:

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Sandy’s blog – a screen shot

  • Sandy Millin’s blogSandy is a DoS at IH Sevastopol and has been blogging for a number of years now. Her blog contains a wealth of teaching ideas that she has tried and tested, reflections, collations of useful links, for example relating to the Delta qualification that she recently completed and to Cambridge exams like FCE. You might also like to check out her (Almost) infinite ELT ideas blog too, if you require an injection of fresh inspiration! In this blog, which is all about collaboration, she publishes a potential resource and canvasses ideas for how to use it with students. Now that she has finished Delta and is settled in her post-Delta new job, this site has been resurrected so keep checking back.
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Adam’s blog – a screenshot

  • Adam Simpson’s blog:Adam works at a Turkish university and is dedicated to his students and to his own professional development, as well as sharing these passions with others. His blog contains a wealth of interesting posts related to this.
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Rachael’s blog – a screen shot

  • Rachael Roberts’s blog Rachael Roberts is a teacher, MaW SIG committee member and materials writer, and her blog contains lots of useful teaching resources and materials that she has developed, together with the rationales behind them, and tips for creating your own materials too.

Some of these blogs sport a “blog roll” of other blogs that the owner has found interesting and useful, so it would be worth checking these out too. Of course there are hundreds more I’d love to name, but this post would get awfully long if I did so!

Some of the “big names” in ELT  also maintain blogs:

Jim and Adrian’s Demand High ELT blog – a screen shot

  • Demand High ELT is a growing site, owned by Jim and Adrian, and devoted to Demand High ELT. There is discussion, links to relevant resources, materials for seminars and more.
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Scott Thornbury’s blog: a screen shot

  • An A-Z of ELT is Scott Thornbury’s blog, containing a wealth of articles about a range of ELT-related topics and issues.
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Adrian’s pron blog – a screen shot

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Hugh’s multi-faceted blog – a screen shot

  • Hugh Dellar’s Blog is full of interesting discussion about various ELT-related topics and ideas that you could try out in your own classes, as well as recordings of talks he’s given at past events.

Of course, the kind of blogs you read will depend also on your own interests within the profession.

For example:

To see links to blogs which relate to ELT management, please click here.

To see links to blogs which relate to Delta please click here.

Why not start blogging yourself, too, if you don’t already? There are lots of good reasons to do so!

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers is a Facebook group where people share information about free webinars that teachers can attend. This makes it a good way of keeping up with what is available in this area of online professional development. You need to make a request to join and posts are moderated so that content remains useful to members. You can choose whether or not to receive notifications when something new is posted.

Technology

There are three major players in the technology game, all of which are worth keeping an eye on in order to stay abreast of technological innovation:

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Nik’s technology lover’s paradise – a screen shot

Russell Stannard's website which answers "How to..." for pretty much anything technology-related.

Russell Stannard’s site which answers “How to…” for pretty much all techy questions – a screen shot

The Consultants-E

The Consultants-E – a screen shot.

  • The Consultants-E : These guys offer training courses and consultancy services but also carry some freely available great resources relating to technology on their website. You can find these by clicking on “Resources” on their home page.

#ELTChat

You could argue that this is part of Twitter, but these days #ELTchat exists beyond the bounds of Twitter too. There is the website, where you can find all the summaries carefully indexed by date, as well as links to podcasts and videos.

ELTchat - a PLN in the making: a screen shot.

ELTchat – a PLN in the making: a screen shot.

And there is also the Facebook group, where people share links to interesting sites they’ve found, to recent chat summaries and more.

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…and the Facebook group page – a screen shot.

IATEFL

IATEFL is the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. This organisation has a website , a Facebook group page , and lots of satellite pages run by various of the SIGs or Special Interest Groups.

IATEFL.org - a screen shot

IATEFL.org – a screen shot

The website contains information about forthcoming events, links to webinars that the association has put on (as well as information about those forthcoming), information about the afore-mentioned SIGS and of course its jobs pages where you can see job advertisements, especially in the run up to the annual IATEFL conference, due to the job market place that runs during this event.

IATEFL Facebook group page

IATEFL Facebook group page – a screen shot

The Facebook page is a space to discuss ELT-related issues and share links of interest to others in the profession. It is not a place for self-promotion and advertising (or spamming!).

In terms of SIG pages, here are a few that I know of:

  • MaW SIG Facebook page : For materials writing fans –  here you can find information about events run by MaW SIG, links to materials writing-related blog posts and sites, information about other materials writing-related events and connect with people who are also interested in materials writing.

Here is a list of all the SIGs currently in action, so if you find one in your area of interest, google it and you will doubtless find a Facebook page and/or a website that it maintains. You could also email the coordinator (name and contact details given in the list) for more information.

SIGs are a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and keep up with issues in your professional area of special interest.

You have to pay to join IATEFL, as well as any of the SIGs themselves (which is highly recommended, as you get plenty of membership benefits), but following their Facebook pages and Twitter handles is open to all.

image taken from openclipart.org via Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification

Don’t forget: share your favourite resources too, by commenting on this post!  – image taken from openclipart.org via Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

I hope this post gives you some new resources to look at and I look forward to hearing about the other resources you’ve tried…