Saturday, November 12, 2005

There's No "One Way" to Use Weblogs in the Classroom

There is no fool-proof, one-sized fits all method for language teaching, though the field is full of those who would claim to have found such an answer to our prayers. I have found the greatest challenge of language teaching not to be selecting or discarding theories, but actually applying them inside the classroom.

I have found no single theory or approach to language teaching that can meet every need, so I vary my classroom procedures depending on the level and specific language focus of the course. For example, in beginning level courses that I have taught, in which receptive skills are being emphasized, I at times behaved as a model and therefore the class was more teacher-centered. On the other hand, I have also taught higher-level oral skills classes in which I encouraged students to do as much speaking as possible, with student-led discussion circles, student presentations, and a much more student-centered class in general. As I have taught classes with different skill focuses, I have also adapted my classroom procedures accordingly. In a “Culture through Film” class I taught in an academic IEP, I used more creative writing activities and students were encouraged to produce as much text as possible, with more attention to accuracy than fluency. The students wrote several unedited reflections and descriptions to build their confidence before they were given a graded writing assignment. Even with the more formal writing prompts, both the students and I focused on content rather than form, since the focus of the class is on cultural competence rather than grammatical accuracy. In an integrated grammar and writing class, however, the tasks were focused on accuracy and the state of the final written product. I used error logs, in-class drafting and editing time, and a product-based grading approach. The nature and goals of the class then, greatly influence the day to day activities in my classes.

I advocate using the same "custom-made" approach to bringing weblogs into the curriculum. What a variety of ways weblogs can be used! With a group of Korean students who visited our campus during their winter holiday, we set up a "travel diary" weblog on which they could record their trips to St. Louis, Chicago, and other cities or simpy recount their activities in Carbondale. Their home university, who sends a similar group to our campus annually, was so taken with the idea that they want to link up next year's travel weblog to their campus website. This is a short-term, fairly small scope use of weblogs, but it nicely meets the needs of those students. For longer-term projects, I have described in detail on another post how ESL weblogs can and should be used interactively with other websites. Also, students can write collaboratively on a class weblog, as I detail in this post. Since some classes work more on linguistic accuracy, teachers can set up weblog use as a "final draft" step, giving students opportunities to correct and revise their writing before making it public. In other situations, teachers can have students write more quickly, for fluency, and of course editing is always possible for major errors.

With all the writing that has been done about using weblogs in education, there is no shortage of ideas out there on what to do with yours. As with anything else we use as a teaching tool, weblogs should be adapted to suit whatever content / skills we currently want to teach, or our students currently want to learn.


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