Build Confidence Through Blogging
Regardless of the course one teaches, or the content being covered, it is important to provide opportunities for students to practice their literacy skills. As a foreign language teacher, I continually seek new, creative ways for my students to practice their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and in the process, to become more confident in their language usage. Students today often struggle with a fear of speaking in class and of making mistakes. As a teacher, I try to support the students as best as I can by reinforcing that it is natural to make mistakes and it is part of the learning process. I share my own experiences to help build a connection with my students.
But even with these supports, the fear of mistakes continues to limit the willingness of students to participate in class activities. They are afraid to be wrong. I have noticed this is very common among students today and even in my own experience, as a teacher and even now as a graduate student, I experience this fear as well. As a teacher, it is important to provide support and model risk-taking for our students. We must work to find different ways to encourage them to use the language and express themselves, without worrying about mistakes.
So how do we do this?
A great way to involve students in expressing themselves and also to provide valuable feedback to them and to help boost confidence in the process, is through blogging. I decided to try this with my students as an alternate homework assignment, to provide some differentiation and to learn more about the specific needs of my students in the process. Blogging was something that I had recently started and so I thought I would give it a try with my students, as a way to help them be more comfortable in expressing themselves.
Because it is critical for students to practice their language skills, I focused on providing some unique and creative writing prompts that would be a comfortable way for them to start writing and blogging. I set some requirements, such as that they do not use translators, that they simply write their response, cast aside any worries about making mistakes, to just write in Spanish and do their best. I continued to emphasize that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process and how we improve as a result of having made mistakes. It is important to also share stories of our successes and failures with our students, so they can relate and have the support that they need. So when I started assigning the blogs to my students for homework assignments, I encouraged them to focus on expressing their ideas, to write freely without worrying about the grammar and language accuracy, but rather to focus on using and creating with the language.
The first assignment
The decision to integrate Kidblog as my blogging platform, and to use blogging as a way to encourage my students to write, and create with the language, has had great benefits on their language skills. The tools available for blogging today are similar to what I had done many years ago, with students in my Spanish IV course, who had paper journals. At that time, I set aside ten minutes in class, a few days each week for the students to write a response to a prompt I had written on the board. I tried to come up with a variety of interesting, fun, content related prompts, to help with comfort level but also to have them practice the related vocabulary and verbs we had been studying. While they wrote, I also took the time to write because I wanted to be involved in the process, and it is beneficial for me to work on continued writing as well. Most of the prompts were created by me, but there were days that I left it up to the students, and their fun, creative ideas, led to even better prompts than those which I had created.
I would collect each of their notebooks on Friday, read their responses over the weekend, provide feedback and comments, but they were not graded based on grammatical correctness. I wanted to assess their skills, use the information to guide my instruction, and also quite importantly, use it as a way to understand the students and their interests. As teachers, it is critical to work on building relationships with our students, to better understand their needs and interests, and the journal writing was a great way to accomplishment each of these goals.
On Monday, I would return the journals, and the students would read my comments and try to implement some of the corrections or feedback that I provided into their work for the new week, and build their language skills.
Blogging: What are some of the benefits?
Blogging is a means for teachers to encourage students to express themselves, to be creative, to build literacy skills, to become more confident in their writing, and focus more on sharing their ideas without fear of errors. Blogging helps students to develop their creative side, to have a choice in what they are writing, to become more expressive and to have some individualized instruction. Paper is fine for students to being blogging and the most important thing is that students have the opportunity to blog and use the experience to build their skills in the language or in any area.
But rather than using paper, students and teachers can benefit by using a tool such as Kidblog. The blog can be written using any device for access. Students can personalize their blog by choosing from different templates, fonts, and more. The use of digital tools for blogging is great for tracking student growth and having the writing available, longer than a piece of paper would last. As teachers, and with our students, we can watch the student’s growth and track their progress in writing skills and more, over a period of time, and provides opportunities for self-reflection.
I enjoy creating new prompts for the students to blog about and I encourage them to find blogs of interest to read as well. Reading their entries provides me with valuable information to help guide my instruction, to give them feedback, but more importantly, I can learn more about the interests and needs of each of my students.
If this sounds like an area that might be of benefit to your classroom and your students, then I recommend trying it out. It is a risk, but it is worth it. Blogging might just be the way to open up communication, collaboration and enhance creativity in your classroom. Find your blogging tool and get started. Good luck!