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Published February 1, 2011 | English (Second Language)

Blog to Better English

Finding time to learn new technologies to use in the classroom is never easy, yet it has become a necessity, given that today's students are digital natives. Already my students seem bored with PowerPoint. Another PowerPoint. Well, at least we won't have to take notes or All our teachers ask us to use PowerPoint. Can't we do something else?

Even after 20 years of teaching, I am still looking for ways to share information with my students that will let them use the tools of their generation, and it was through my search that I came across a Wordpress blog. In fact, it was not even an idea that had crossed my mind until I began helping another teacher find a way to encourage her students to submit their work and ideas to her by using IT resources other than Léa. We met with our IT Goddess, Huguette Dupont, who suggested that we set up Wordpress blogs via ProfWeb. We didn't even know what it was, but with easy email instructions to get a ProfWeb account and a three-hour WordPress workshop given by François Simard from the Cégep de Saint-Jérôme, I decided to adopt the structure for my students.

Alluring graphics invite student use

Alluring graphics invite student use

In general, it was easy. At the beginning of our workshop, I had no idea what I could do or why I would want to adopt this pedagogical tool. Within a few short hours and a few clicks of the mouse though, I learned how to add videos and post new articles on the basic skeleton of my blog. I soon had created enough to publish and make available to my students. Even though the start of any semester is busy, I was able to get something up and running. We were given the option of what sort of address we wanted. Did I want to go directly through WordPress and not have any technical assistance or did I prefer to set up my blog and host it on Profweb through the Profweb Personal Space where I knew I could get help in English or French when I needed it? I chose the Profweb option.

From the outset, my goal was clear. I wanted my blog to be a complement to my course and not the main focus. I planned on using it for two different levels and including videos, grammar links, dictionaries, and newspapers for my ESL students.

My students and I jumped right in on the first day of classes. I showed them the blog, had them bookmark it, and worked with the first videos. I couldn't quite believe it when some of the students came back to class the following week and told me that they had shown the page and video to their parents! That was more than I had hoped for and the motivation I needed to keep going.

Ressources for the students

Ressources for the students

As the semester progressed, I added (and subtracted) more videos and language resource links for the projects I was doing. The students responded well to the choice of material I posted and found it practical to have their ESL online resources that I gathered from across the web in one place. They had easy access to grammar websites, online dictionaries, video links from TED Talks, and, of course, brief explanations of each.

That is not to say, however, that everything was perfect. I definitely could have used more guidance on setting up my webpages, which remained empty throughout the semester. In fact, it was only because I was too busy to look for the resources that that part of my project went untouched. I will also modify the activities and content for this upcoming semester. I might have students respond to a forum but limit the number of postings so that I can correct their content. What is important is for the students to improve their second language skills beyond the classroom yet in a secure environment where I can help them by reading over their postings and fixing up errors.

What I have learned is that I will need to have precise goals. Because I had a solid idea of where I wanted to go for a first experience, my task was easy. I will have to make some firm decisions about how much more IT I want in my classroom. Already I make daily use of a computerized language lab, Léa, email, Powerpoint and pdfs. Do I really need to add more to that? At what point do I have time for actual "teaching"? Yes, the students seemed to enjoy having the tools at their fingertips, but that does not mean that they actually responded to my blog. I will continue with my blog and try to have my students respond. Next year, I'll take even bigger steps and will ask my students to create their own work and respond to each other. My first goal was to have my students improve their English skills through my blog, and with the high level of engagement, I suppose that they did. My next one is to improve my own skills at using IT in my language classroom more effectively. If I keep going in this direction, I suppose I will reach that goal too.

Finally, I would love to have some comments and suggestions from you. What are you doing with your language students? Do you blog? Do they? How do you feel about making your students respond to each other in this setting?

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