Foreign Language Blogging: The Way to Express Yourself Freely

Excited to start my blogging for Kidblog.  Here is a link to my first post about Foreign Language Classrooms and the benefits of Student Blogging.  http://kidblog.org/home/foreign-language-blogging-the-way-to-express-yourself-freely/

 

Throughout the twenty-some years I have been teaching, I have continued to seek new, engaging ways for my students to practice their foreign language skills. I want students to work on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and develop confidence using the language in the process.  When learning a new language, an issue that often arises for students is the fear of making mistakes.  As a result of this fear, they tend to shy away from participating in our class activities. They will note on their homework and tests that they are “probably wrong” or a some other general comment showing a lack of confidence in their work. Other times, before they provide a response in class comes a statement of self-doubt such as, “I’m sure I am wrong” or a request to not have to respond, “Can you please call on someone else?”

Students in general are afraid to be wrong.  In the foreign language classroom, I have noticed this is a recurrent theme among my students.

Hearing students exhibit these feelings drove me to look for ways to help them become comfortable in expressing themselves.  Students need to practice language skills, so I focused on finding methods to encourage students to cast aside doubt and find confidence in expressing themselves through the language.  Initially, I started each class by reminding students to “just go with it,” to simply read their answer, write their response, and not worry about being wrong, just participate.  I tried to help them understand that it is normal to make mistakes – that is how we learn. I even shared stories of my own mistakes to emphasize this point.

I chose to integrate blogging as a way to encourage my students to take a chance with writing and to be more creative with the language. I started having my students write blogs for a few homework assignments.  I encouraged them to share their thoughts, write freely, and not worry so much about grammar and being right, but to focus on expressing their ideas and using the language.

I had done some blogging with students in Spanish many years ago, although at that time it was called “our daily journal writing.” I set aside 10 minutes in class a few days each week, created a prompt, and encouraged them to write. I asked them to write without worrying so much about grammatical accuracy, but rather focus on expressing their ideas. I also took the time to write alongside them because I found it was important to be involved in the process. The prompts I provided were fun to write about.

At the end of each week I would collect their notebooks and read their responses. I chose not to grade their entries based on correctness, but rather provide feedback where needed. I also used it as a way to learn about the students themselves.  Building relationships is such an important part of what we do as teachers and, for me, this was a great way to learn more about the interests of my students and to build their language skills in the process.

The students would read my responses and as part of the following week’s writing, try to implement some of the corrections or feedback that I had provided into their work.

Blogging has proved to be a tremendous way to encourage students to be creative and express themselves without worrying so much about being right. They are now focusing on talking about things that matter to them and, therefore, creating with the language.

 

Photo Credit:  WELCOME by prayitnophotography; CC BY 2.0 license via flickr

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Foreign Language Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and received my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law, and I will receive my Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne University in May 2016. I have presented at several conferences on technology, including PETE&C in Pennsylvania and four sessions at ISTE in Philadelphia in 2015. I look forward to presenting at these conferences again this year and enjoy sharing ideas and collaborating with others.

The First Step In EdTech Integration? Connecting With Students

Thanks again to Terry Heick and Teach Thought for sharing my blog post.  Very appreciative and thankful for the opportunity.

 

Here is the link to the post:  http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/the-first-step-in-edtech-integration-connecting-with-students/

 

 

The First Step In EdTech Integration? Connecting With Students

by Rachelle Dene Poth 

You can always find a lot of discussion about the best ways, tools, and ideas for integrating technology in the classroom.

Educating yourself about the tools available and best strategies for integrating technology into the classroom is important to stay up to date with your profession. But where do you start? What’s the first step?

Teachers may find themselves on varying ends of the spectrum of being technology savvy. Teachers who have taught years (or were 80s children like myself), have seen many changes in the world of technology from the entrance of Apple computers and programming in the early 1980s, to the start of the internet in the nineties, to cloud computing and other emerging technologies today. There will be more changes on the horizon.

I have grown up in the age of computing, and as a result, incorporating technology into my classroom was not something I was afraid to do–nor was it a seamless process either.  Risks are always involved when using powerful tools. With the new venture come many questions such as where to begin, how to begin, and best practices to support learning.

So where to begin? How comfortable are you with computers and web 2.0 tools?  For several years, I had been using some language learning games and activities, and had students complete projects using word processing and other presentation software.  Other than audio and video resources for my course, the technology use in my classroom was limited.  I had attended a conference and realized that there were so many possibilities out there for enhancing learning experiences and new ways to engage students, so I reflected a bit to figure out what I could add to my classroom that would benefit my students and bring about positive changes.

For my classroom, it came down to what I have referred to as a “disconnect” between my students, our class and their access to vital resources.  I focused on finding something that could make a difference. I decided to start with finding a way to facilitate communication.

“Edtech integration,” I wondered to myself “has to start there.”

The Need For Communication Resources

There have been many times that students have come to me after a long weekend with questions about the homework that they did not complete because they did not understand it.

And there were times when students missed class and appeared in front of me at the start of class, wondering what they missed in their absence.  These situations led me to find Celly.  Celly is a messaging tool.  When I started, it enabled me to send reminders to students, to receive their questions, to share resources, and to be available when the students needed (which often was later in the evening or during the weekend when their questions appeared).

So how did this impact my classroom? It began to eliminate the problem of the “disconnect.” Perfect! Integrating this tool into my classroom was the first step in a series of changes that I made that, it seemed to me, improved the learning of the students. That this began simply by creating a persistent connect made me feel better about my hunch. My students, at least most of the time, were getting help when they needed it.

If this sounds like something that could benefit your classroom, try one of the many great messaging tools available: Celly, Voxer, twitter, or any of the dozens of apps that make this possible. Once you feel comfortable with your choice, then start thinking about another way that you can add to the learning experience in your classroom.

Think connections. Who am I connecting to whom or what, and why?

Another way to think about it is to start with a problem–time, organization, content delivery, etc.–and work backwards from there. Then find a tool to use, and start by taking that first step. Work with it a while and see the effects it makes in your classroom.  If it is beneficial, then start to think about other connections to make and problems to solve. You may find that your first choice is not the best, but you have to try it out; follow through and reflect.

This means you’ll need to give it some time first. Any time we try something new, it can be a challenge and it can also be a risk.  Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we are not, but as educators we should also actively be take risks, face challenges, show the students that failure happens sometimes. Set a goal and work on it, and then take time reflect on the process. Keep wondering and continue seeking more information. Be curious. Be persistent–and model these behaviors for your students!

If you stay connected with them, and connect them to one another, it will be difficult to “fail.” Better news? Your teaching is now on display and amplified. This can sound daunting, but transparency is a straight pathway to collaboration and improvement.

The First Step In EdTech Integration? Connecting With Students; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool

What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

Thank you to Terry Heick and TeachThought for this tremendous opportunity to write and share information about the benefits of student blogging recently.  I enjoy reading TeachThought and am thrilled to have been included.

 

Here is the post:

What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

by Rachelle Dene Poth

What are some ideas of alternate methods of assessing students and engaging them more in conversation? Good question.

I’ve been talking a lot about some of the first steps that I took when I began integrating technology into my classroom. Like I said before, when I started, it’s not that I really had a clear direction of where to begin, or exactly what I felt was missing in my classroom.  I just tried to think about an area that maybe could benefit by bringing about some sort of change, and would most benefit my students and myself. And looking back, I still feel confident that the first step I took was the right step: Finding a way to bridge the “disconnect” between the students and myself.

For my students, choosing and continuing to use Celly and Edmodo, really have helped to resolve this “disconnect” and enable me to differentiate and personalize my instruction and also to empower students to take responsibility for their learning and have an opportunity to express themselves more.

There are so many options available for teachers looking to add something involving technology into the classroom, and it all depends on what your needs are. Maybe there is only one area that you feel like you could add something to, just figure out with that one area is. My new addition last year with my students was blogging. I had read blogs for several years and enjoyed the fact that there were so many available, on so many topics and that it gave the reader an opportunity to learn about a lot of different information in short passages.

While tremendously beneficial for the reader,  it also seemed like a great way for the author to share ideas and pass along helpful hints to anybody who wanted to learn just a little bit more about a topic. Blogs are great for those who do not have time to read a book and want to follow or learn about specific topics.  It is also a great way to express oneself. With this in mind, I started having my students write blogs in Spanish and I chose Kidblog.

Choosing A Blogging Platform

Now there are many blogging platforms available which offer a lot of benefits.  On a personal level, I have used Blogger, Word Press and Edublogs. These are great options and there are many other ways to share a blog, and depending on what your personal needs are and how you would like to incorporate blogging into your classroom, you may decide to use any one of these. But for my students when I started, I began with Kidblog in my Spanish III and IV courses.

I will say that at first the students for the most part were quite apprehensive about writing and worried who would be reading their work and probably more than anything it was the fear of writing it correctly and making mistakes. And these are all natural concerns for anybody when confronting something that’s new and different than what has been the traditional way of doing things, especially when it comes to the classroom setting.

I had never written a blog myself until I was asked to write one for a few Edtech companies and share how I was using the tools in my classroom. I was apprehensive at first, having no experience writing a blog at that time.  I was not sure where to begin. However, it’s true what they say, once you take that first step you can keep moving. It’s just that getting started is the most difficult part, finding the right words, learning about your writing style, it’s all part of the process. But the overall benefit is that regardless of what your purpose is for blogging the benefits are tremendous for both the author and the reader.

What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

The blogger has the benefit of improving writing skills whether it be just basic grammar in English or learning foreign language skills as is the case for my Spanish students, or for other courses, learning to write in a specific way whether it be persuasive text or narrative for example. And the theme can be relevant to any course or personal interest topic. An additional benefit is the ability to share ideas and experiences, enabling people to learn from each other.

Blogging enables you to write freely about your ideas and thoughts, and you can choose to share them or you can keep them private, but the end result is that you have a way to express yourself, be creative and can then use it as a means for personal growth and reflection.

All of my students in Spanish II, III and IV have accounts for blogging and sometimes I will give them a prompt and other times I leave it up to them to write about whatever they feel like writing about. I do set guidelines for the blog to be a certain length, number of words, specific verb tenses, but I really want it to be a way for them to express themselves, be creative and have it be more personalized.

Getting Started

Before we begin blogging and throughout the year, I continue to emphasize that it’s really important to remember a couple of things. The purpose of the blog is to work on writing skills and that means their own skills and not those enhanced by trying to use a translator. They need to put forth the effort and try to write in Spanish, in my case, while keeping in mind some of the grammar, vocabulary and verbs that we have learned in class. And finally, they need read the feedback from me, or if they are paired with a classmate, peer-review and not worry about any errors.  I reinforce that we’re all in this together to help each other learn and grow and that it’s okay to make a mistake.  While my experience is with students studying a foreign language, you can apply these same parameters to any course.

I use the blogs as a way to have them work with a new vocabulary unit on their own, I let them get into small groups and take turns writing and then commenting on blogs, but either way I read them all and I learn more about what their needs are as far as the language skills go, but I also learn more about them as a person and it helps to build relationships with them as well.

Final Thoughts

So those are just some thoughts about how you could use blogging in your classroom, maybe it’s something that you would do occasionally or on a weekly basis, depending on your class it could be a great way for students to write their interpretation of something they read in English or in a history course for example. I myself have written blogs for graduate coursework and at times, I am still apprehensive because I am putting my ideas out there for somebody else to read and I think it’s natural to feel a little bit afraid of expressing yourself openly, but that’s what the purpose is, to feel free to share your thoughts, to learn to communicate with others, and to build connections.  These are all important parts of the learning process.

So think about blogging.  Whether it means you find a blog to read, start to write your own blog once a week, once a month or try it out in one of your classes. I will say it can amount to a lot of reading when you have your students do it, but it’s completely worth it for you and for them. And don’t be afraid to take a chance with it, we learn from our experiences and we reflect and continue to grow.

Among the benefits of students blogging?

  • Student autonomy and student engagement–without these, the blogging isn’t possible.
  • The natural “cognitive load” of the writing process–writing is hard; writing that will actually be read by someone outside the classroom is another thing altogether.
  • 21st century skills, including publishing ideas with authentic audiences (see above).
  • Opportunities to practice digital literacy and citizenship

If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you, happy blogging!